Look at the majority of fishing (fly or not) magazines and web sites, and there’s typically a photo of someone holding a recently caught fish. You know the photo – the one with the smiling person proudly holding the sought after fish. It’s understandable to some degree – it’s about a trophy and sharing a memory of the event.
But what’s often not clear to me is whether that fish is being returned to the stream or water, or whether it will wind up in someone’s fry pan later that day. In many cases, and required in sport fisheries, those fish will be returned to the water. What’s left to ponder is how many of those fish ultimately survive the encounter.
There are many causes if they do not: Using too light a tackle and playing the fish too long; think about that next time someone tells you how they really like to use “too light” tackle. Or careless handling – stripping the protective mucous from the fish by not wetting hands before handling the fish. Or tossing the fish back into the water rather than letting it swim out of your hands.
And then there’s the most obvious – holding the fish up and away from the water for the shot of the happy fisher with the prized catch.
It’s difficult to resist. I know that. I posted earlier about my careless handling of a sea run cutthroat trout. That led me to the use of a net for all catches. See my post here.
But for those determined to hold up the fish for the prized photo, the fish needs to be held carefully to avoid damage to the heart, liver and gills.
Bishfish has an excellent post that shows examples of crushing grips – the same kind of grips one often sees in photos – that likely lead to fish mortality. There is also a photo of a fish held properly.
As I said above, it’s difficult to resist the urge to get the trophy shot; as either a keepsake or as proof of one’s skill with a rod.
But with the pressure on fisheries everywhere, unless the fish is to be taken and eaten, it should be left in the water. A fish in the net can still be a great photo.
Perhaps the ethic John Muir expressed about the woods – “Take only memories, leave only footprints” – needs to become the ethic of the 21st sport fisherman: “Take only memories, and leave the fish in the water.”
You can read the Bishfish post here.