YOU'VE GOT 'EM, now what do you do? A day on the lake throwing line, sinker and lure or bait of your choice, and eight fish to show. Congratulations. Now what?
A meal? A few plaques? Food for the cat? Trophies to show the neighbors, and then what? Garbage can? The garden? The trash bin behind the nearest 7-Eleven after phone calls found no takers?It's a problem. What to do with fish once you've got them? It's fun to catch fish and to pass off success modestly to other fishermen around the boat dock. It is not always fun to clean the fish, or find room in a crowded ice freezer, or talk sensitive eaters into tasting something that was once slimy and ate bugs.
Any more, fishermen shouldn't catch and keep fish if they don't intend on cooking them. There's too much pressure on the resources now. Better to catch and release.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources figures that more than 600,000 people - licensed and juvenile fishermen - fished state waters last year. Established patterns indicate it will be higher this year. At one limit each, that's more than five million fish going to homes this year.
There are no figures to show how many of those will throw away their catches. But, if one in eight did, half a million fish would go to waste.
Also, it's costly keeping streams and lakes properly stocked. The DWR figures about five cents per inch for trout. Consider, too, that it takes 15 months for a trout to reach catchable size, close to five years for a bass.
With catch and release, anglers can still get the thrill of the pursuit and the excitement of the catch, plus the satisfaction of the release . . . and no cleanup or disposal afterward. And best of all, better fishing tomorrow.
That's what they found in Yellowstone National Park.
The limit on Yellowstone River 25 years ago was 10 fish, and getting a limit then was easy. When fishing got tougher, the limit was dropped to five and eventaully to one.
Consider, now, one fish. A single. It could come down to one cast, one reel-in, and one unhooking, maybe 10 minutes, and still the Yellowstone was being fished out. Added fishing pressure, they found, more than made up for the cut in the limit. In other words, 1,000 fishermen at 10 fish each had the same impact as 10,000 fishermen at one fish.
The most regrettable part, however, was not the catching, but the wasting. Most of the fish, rangers reported, were ending up in the bear-proof garbage cans. With the evening meal already planned, with no where to put the odoriferous fish, and with a long drive home in a hot car ahead, the fish were discarded.
Faced with the same problem on the Madison River, biologists ran a study. They divided a stretch of river into four parts - catch and release only, a closed area, a third with a slot limit (two fish under a certain size and one over to preserve the breeding population), and the last stretch left to fishing as usual - 10 fish and anything on the end of the line went.
They found the best results, naturally, came from the closed section. The "catch and release" section was nearly identical. The number of fish was the same, but the fish were slightly smaller.
In the area with a slot limit there was a noticeable difference between it and the
first two sections in both size and numbers. And, in the section left to heavy pressure, quality and quantity continued to drop.
It was also found that mortality of fish caught on bait and then released was about 55 percent, while fish caught on lures, flies and even trebble hooks suffered only about a two percent loss.
Which is why regulations for artificial flies and lures go along with rehabilitation efforts, now.
In these days of increasing numbers of fishermen, increasing overhead, and slashed budgets, catch and release could be a needed safety valve.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with keeping fish for an evening meal. Fish caught nowadays are well-earned. It is wrong, however, to catch and then can fish. So why not catch and release? And if you want something to show the neighbors, snap a photo. It's easy to carry, needs no refrigeration, and is odorless.