Fish Conservation – Catch and Release
I started fishing with my father and grandfather at a very early age. As soon as I was old enough to hold a rod, I was taught to respect nature. We were brought up to believe that all of the natural resources that we enjoy were put here for us, but that we would lose these resources if we abused them.
We always grew up eating most of the fish we caught. It was just another way for us to support the family. As I got older, I became interested in sport fishing a bit more. I learned about fish populations and the importance of managing them through proper regulations and catch and release skills.
There have been countless examples of these strategies bringing animal populations from the brink of extinction back to healthy levels. While some of my friends complain about daily limits and length restrictions, it has always been second nature for me. More than anything else, I want to fish with my grandkids and great grandkids on these same waters someday. With the right conservation techniques, this can be possible.
Fish Conservation VS Fish Preservation
When discussing hunting, fishing, and trapping there are two terms that come up often. These are conservation and preservation. Unfortunately, most people do not know the difference. Both can be a very good thing if managed properly.
Conservation is the practice of restricting where, when, and how people take wild game to preserve animal populations. Preservation is the complete protection of an area or a species such as wildlife sanctuaries or labeling a species as endangered. Preservation is typically a last stitch effort to help animal populations that have been severely damaged.
While these rules and regulations make a huge difference, not everyone follows them. The best thing you can do is to follow the rules yourself and encourage others with you to do the same. Not only will this help with animal populations, but it can help you avoid some hefty fines. It is not uncommon for tickets from the Department of Conservation to come to several hundred dollars for a single violation.
There are a variety of different regulations set forth by the Department of Conservation to help keep our waterways full of healthy fish. One of these is that all anglers above a certain age must possess a fishing license and any applicable stamps required. For example, to fish for trout in Arkansas you need a fishing license and a trout stamp. You can buy short term options that last for a few days, annual licenses, or even lifetime licenses. My father recently got a lifetime hunting and fishing license to be sure he wouldn’t ever forget to renew it.
Another example of the conservation process is the establishment of fishing seasons. These vary from state to state and from species to species, so you must check your regulations. The seasons are designed to avoid disruption the reproduction process so a healthy new generation of fish can enter our waterways.
Often fish are required to be a certain length, certain weight, or both in order to keep the fish. If you are practicing catch and release fishing, this will not matter much. However, if you plan to fish for the freezer you will need a ruler and possibly a fish scale. Many anglers I know have glued a ruler to their boat or tackle box for this very purpose.
Finally, there are daily and sometimes season limits on specific species of fish. This means that you can only keep so many fish per day or per season. For example, if you are fishing for a species that is relatively low in population you may only be able to keep one or two per day. The anglers I know that fish for the freezer typically shoot for hitting their limit every time they go out. Again, if you catch and release then this would not matter.
Catch and Release Fishing
Many anglers do not realize that handling a fish improperly can easily kill the fish. The monsters that you would like to catch again will not survive, and many of the young fish you throw back will never mature. The idea of catch and release to control fish populations is a good one, but only if it is done properly.
Lately there has been a trend of new anglers strictly focusing on sport fishing. People who would typically golf or play tennis have turned to fishing for a recreational sport to get away from the hustle of the work week. Most of these anglers will throw back the fish they catch. The ironic part is that often they will hit the grocery store on the way home and pick up fish for dinner. These new anglers rarely know the proper way to catch and release.
The other trend we have seen recently is the strict enforcement of regulations set forth by the Department of Conservation. When we were kids fishing every day, we would often go weeks without seeing a ranger. These days you can almost predict a visit if you are on public waters. Because of this, it is even more important that you follow regulations and catch and release properly. If you are keeping a fish, be sure to measure it.
Most people are never taught about the damage that they do when handling fish. If the fish swallows the hook and your remove it, there is a very good chance that the fish will die. Even if you hook it in the lip, proper handling is vital.
Keep the Fight Short
My dad showed me a trick for some extra fun when bass fishing. He said to use a lightweight rod and spinning reel like you would use for trout. The fish that you hook feel even bigger than they are as you fight back and forth with that thin rod.
Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that this is very hard on the fish. With a lightweight setup you often will fight the fish twice as long as you would with a medium or heavy rod. Proper catch and release techniques show that you need to use heavier rods and line so you can bring in the fish without a long fight.
Only about one in three fish that swallow a hook and have it removed will survive. This is mainly because of the damage that the angler does pulling out the hook. Hooks typically have barbs that dig in deeper when you try to remove them. I have seen anglers accidently hook themselves or someone else, and it is not pretty. Typically, you must push the hook through the skin and out the other side, snip off the barb, and then remove it.
Your best bet is to leave the hook and snip the line. The vast majority of fish with a hook left inside of them will survive. Eventually the hook will work itself free, and you are not doing any additional damage trying to remove it.
I constantly see people pulling fish out of the water by the line either because they don’t have a fishing net or their net is not close by. Think about the damage that is done as the entire weight of the fish is pulling down on that metal hook. You need to have a net to prevent that damage and free the fish properly.
I like a net with a long or telescopic handle. This allows me to bring in fish from the shore that are tangled up. It is also great for bringing crappie into the boat when you are surrounded by debris. Nylon nets are pretty hard on the fish as they tangle easily and are often abrasive. A silicone or rubber net works much better. If you are fishing for trout, always fish with a trout net as they are even more sensitive.
Drop the Barb
Many anglers do not realize that barbless hooks are available in every size they could possibly need. The barb is the part of the hook that really tears up the fish. On a barbless hook, you can almost always keep the fish alive with proper handling.
barbless hooks for fishing require some practice as you must maintain constant pressure on the line to prevent the fish from jumping the hook. Fishing with barbless hooks will definitely improve your skills. You can also flatten the barbs on regular hooks with pliers if you prefer.
All fish have a layer of slime or mucus on their scales or skin to keep the fish healthy. If this layer is disrupted, it can kill the fish. Always get your hands wet before you touch a fish. This is especially true for trout as they do not have any scales. Never touch the gills or eyes and always run your stringer through the bottom lip. This will ensure the fish has the best chance possible.
- Avoid the heat. Any time the temperature is above 80F, the fish could die just from the catch and release fishing process.
- Never let the fish touch the ground. This is even more damaging than handling a fish with dry hands.
- Never move a fish back and forth in the water to get it moving. Instead, just face the fish upstream and let the water run across its gills.
- If you are taking pictures, be quick. Bring the fish up out of the water right as the picture is being taken so it is only out of the water for a few seconds.
- Keeping our waterways full of fish should always be our goal. The only way we can accomplish this is to follow the rules and to catch and release properly. If you see friends and family not following these guidelines, ask them if they would like to know the proper method. Remember that most people simply don’t know how much damage they are doing. If everyone puts forth some effort, we can continue to enjoy fishing every season.
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