Lance Peterson, Hal Rhodes and Ken Hill are among the growing number of "love 'em and leave 'em" fishermen. Purists, some would say. Just fishermen, they would say, more interested in catching than keeping.
They work as hard as any fishermen to catch fish, then as gently as any to release them . . . no worse the wear and there to be caught again.What it means to Peterson and Rhodes is good fishing. What it means to the resources is more fish. What it means in the future is bigger fish and better fishing.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, believes in the more moderate "low kill" philosophy . . . put size limits on certain waters and encourage fishermen to keep only what they will use on others.
"You can accomplish the same goals with `catch and release' or `low kill.' You reduce the number of fish kept and you protect the larger fish," said Glenn Davis, fisheries program coordinator for the DWR.
Bruce Schmidt, chief of fisheries for the DWR, said he encourages fishermen to "never eat a frozen fish.
"There's nothing wrong with eating fish. They're good and healthy for you. But, fish are best when they are fresh, so why not eat them when they're fresh. Don't take them home and put them in the freezer."
Schmidt used the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam as an example of limiting catches and size.
Before "low kill" slot regulations were initiated in the mid-1980s, the average fish caught measured 12 to 13 inches. The average now is nearly 18 inches.
"If enough people practice `catch and release,' or keep only those fish they plan to eat, we would realize a change in the population structure. If more fish survive, there would obviously be more fish. Also, it leaves them to grow a couple of inches."
Peterson and Rhodes estimated that over the past five years they've caught and released hundreds of fish. They started "before it was the popular thing to do."
"What got us thinking about it was going to streams that had been fished out. It gets you thinking. Then you go somewhere and see people walking away with stringers of fish you just know they'll never eat," said Peterson.
Here are some suggestion on how to release fish:
- Use artificial lure and flies. Fish generally take these in the mouth where it is easier to remove the hook. Fish often swallow baits. Studies have shown that a fish caught on artificial lures and flies has a 90 percent chance of survival, while a fish caught on baits has less than a 50-50 chance.
- Try not to overplay a fish. If the fish appears tired, hold it in the water with its head upstream. When it recovers enough, it will swim away.
- Try not to touch the fish. Remove the hook with the fish still in the water if possible. Needle nose pliers or hemostats work well for removing hooks. If the fish must be handled, wet the hands before holding it. The slimy feel the fish has is actually part of its immune system. Dry hands will remove that protective coating.
- Use barbless hooks. If the hook does have a barb, file or squeeze it down. Barbless hooks are easier to remove and do less harm.
- If the fish must be handled, turn it over on its back. Fish struggle less when they've been turned over.
- When you do have bait-caught fish and want to release it, the best way is to cut the line and leave the hook. The hook will rust out from action of the digestive fluids. If the fish is hurt, keep it.
- And, if you do catch a trophy and want permanent record for the den or office wall, measure and weight the fish, take a color picture and then release the fish. There are businesses that will make an exact replica of the fish, right down to the coloration.