Birdshot and backlashes - Catch and release

by Bob Cary

Next to the creation of electronic fish locators or depth sounders, the most important development in sport fishing over the last few decades has been “Catch & Release.” <BR><BR>The idea of letting fish go unharmed goes back to the 1930s. Back then, one of the most popular outdoor magazines was “Hunting and Fishing” which originated an organization called “The Square Circle,” a national club of anglers who pledged to adhere to the fishing laws and to promote sportsmanship. In those days, being “square” meant being honest and trustworthy. <BR><BR>One of the practices they began was the concept of letting gamefish go after they were brought to net. In the early 1930s, I was about 12 years old and learning flyfishing from a skilled river man named B.J. Skaggs. He had joined the Square Circle and insisted I join, too.<BR><BR>There was something quite gratifying about hooking into a big bass, bringing him in, then slipping the hook free and watching the fish swim off into the current. The same thing holds true today. <BR><BR>“Catch &Release” is almost religious dogma for many anglers. The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, WI, has a division where released big fish of all species are listed. The Echo fish contest features Catch & Release. Muskie fishing, in particular is predominately “Catch & Release.” The muskie size limit in Minnesota is 40 inches, which requires all but the very largest to be released. <BR><BR>The idea of Catch & Release is to free a caught fish so it can live to be caught by another angler. A noble thought. Maybe. There have always been a few spoil sports who have said “Hold on, maybe this ain’t all that great.” Among them are some fish biologists.<BR><BR>There is no question that a lot of fish are being released these days, but are they surviving? The fisheries people note that in order for a caught fish to survive, it must be quickly unhooked and quickly let go with a very minimum of handling. This means no hauling around on a stringer to show off or to spend any lengthy amount of time out of water for photos.<BR><BR>Any delay in releasing the fish means it will die. Underwater, out of sight. Biologists know this. In some countries, such as Germany, Catch & Release is not allowed. By law, anglers must keep every fish caught and limits are small. Anyone spotted releasing a live fish can be arrested and fined. That’s a switch.<BR><BR>Enter PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which also branches off into fish. They don’t like any kind of fishing and like Catch & Release even less. They claim it is barbaric to impale a fish on a hook, romp it around on light tackle until it is completely exhausted, take it out of the water, unhook it and put it back so it can be subjected to the same stress over again.<BR><BR>Anglers counter that releasing bigger fish, usually females, insures that the largest spawners go back in the lake. Like some anglers I know, I engaged in all kinds of Catch & Release over the years but don’t much any more. My wife and I catch enough fish for a good supper and quit. Just go home. We Catch & Eat. We do, however, release big bass, walleyes and northern pike, partly because they are loaded with mercury and not good eating, anyway.<BR><BR>The PETA people tend toward a feeling of moral superiority because they say they don’t kill anything they eat. Like heck. Dr. Powless, an Oneida Indian science professor at the U. of Wisconsin once tangled with some of these people in Duluth. They complained about Indians eating deer and moose.<BR><BR>“Are you vegetarians?” he asked.<BR><BR>“Yes” was the proud answer.<BR><BR>“I am sure you eat salads,” said Dr. Powless. “Salads are made up of lettuce and other live vegetables, composed of living cells. Maybe they don’t scream, but they are alive. Every plant knows what is going on in its parts. If you damage a leaf or a root, the rest of the plant knows it and strives mightily to overcome the damage. When you eat a salad you are eating all those minute, living cells. Chewing them up and eating them alive.”<BR><BR>His audience didn’t applaud. I suppose if a person got to feeling guilty enough, he would quit eating and die of starvation. PETA might approve of that.<BR><BR> Edith and I will just settle for a good walleye dinner. If we can catch the walleyes.<BR><BR>