and Release by
''Well, fishin' ain't what is used to be! We used to take 'em outta'
here by the boatload.'' I know you've heard it said. Maybe even said it
yourself at one time.
I don't think I'm letting out some big secret that there is a
distinct correlation between the two themes of that sentence. And,
luckily, we've learned that we can no longer take stringers of fish out
of any body of water and have the fishing remain what it used to be.
But what are the realities of our new catch and release mentality?
What does it actually mean to you on your next canoe trip or visit to
one of the BWCA's fine fishing resort locations?
I think it's important to understand spawning cycles first of all.
Because there is little doubt that the fish are the most vulnerable
during that time. In the BWCA those cycles are as follows:
- Northern Pike: They spawn in early, early spring. Even
under the ice some years. And while many fishing seasons are closed
at that time you can still harm the pike by casting into their
spawning areas. And that, of course, means the shallows where the
warmest water is. So if you find yourself shouting ''hey, there are
fish all over this bay'' that should be a large clue that you're in
spawning grounds. The pike are quite fragile, as you might guess, so
it's best to leave them alone. And, if you happen to hook one, it's
vital to the fish's survival that you not tire it out and that you
release it quickly and gently. More on that later.
- Walleyes: Walleyes are the next to spawn. Generally well
over by Memorial Weekend. But they need a lot warmer water than the
pike. They will be found in the shallows, of course, as well as
moving water areas. Most fishing seasons are scheduled so that you
won't interrupt the spawning process but, if there is a late spring,
this process can be delayed by weeks and weeks. So be aware of
what's happening with the water temperatures. Special care should,
again, be taken if you happen to hook a fish that appears unusually
fat. Fish don't get fat, like us humans, so it's likely the fish you
hooked is a pregnant female. One with thousands and thousands of
eggs to drop in the spawning area.
- Smallmouth Bass: The smallies need water in the 60's to
drop their eggs. So this tends to happen in June in the BWCA region.
You can actually see the bass fanning the gravel in the shallows to
make a bed for their eggs. Needless to say, it's best to leave them
alone at this time. And release them with care should you hook one.
Those smaller fish that keep smacking your lure, without getting
hooked, are the males. They are protecting the nest from predation.
So let 'em be.
- Lake Trout: Lakers, unlike the other species, spawn in the
fall and that is why the season for them generally closes at the end
of September. So, again, if you're doing a late fall trip be on the
lookout for these beautiful fish gathered in the shallows. Bear in
mind that one healthy female carries thousands and thousands of
eggs. Future fish!
So, Catch and Release rule number one is to know your seasons. There
is good reason for them. If you want your kids and grandkids to catch
fish like you do then you've got to respect these cycles. It's the way
Number Two: Try to take a look at your fishing habits and
traditions. If your canoe trip, or resort visit, is all about filling
the cooler with filets then you are somewhat behind the times and need
to catch up with the rest of the sporting world.
Number Three: Use line strong enough to get a fish to the
boat, or canoe, quickly so that you don't overtax their strength. Reel 'em
in and let 'em go! The sooner the better!
Number Four: Have the darn camera ready! If you have to dig
for it the fish is likely a goner! Buy a disposable, waterproof model,
like I do, and keep it in your life jacket pocket! It'll do the job
Number Five: Have your pliers, or leatherman, ready, too! You
want to minimize the amount of time you handle the fish before they are
released. So be prepared.
Number Six: Think ahead! How big of a fish will you eat? How
big of a fish will you mount? How much money will you spend to mount a
fish! Will your spouse allow it in the house? Be prepared. If your party
can't eat all the fish you keep then you're just hurting the population
unnecessarily. Don't be a pig when it comes to fish.
Number Seven: Wet your hands! Before handling any fish.
Otherwise you can really mess 'em up by rubbing off their protective
Number Eight: If possible, use one of the new rubber landing
nets. While not practical for canoe trips I have one in my fishing boat
and really like. The fish do not get tangled up in them and you can
remove your hook and get them back in the water.
Number Nine: Sometimes that lure, or jig, has just gotta' go.
If the fish is really hooked badly, or they've swallowed it deeply, then
it's time to cut your line and let them go. I know this can be tough
with a Rapala worth several dollars but it's best for the fish. The
hooks will rust and the lure will fall out in a reasonably short time.
The fish may not live, to be truthful, but there is no way they will
live if you rip our their gills, their throat, or their mouth! And if
they begin to bleed from the gills they are in big trouble.
Number Ten: Consider barbless hooks. You don't have to use
them all the time. Or even buy them. Just take your pliers and bend them
down. You'll catch plenty of fish, if the hooks are sharp, and they'll
be super easy to release!
Number Eleven: Take the picture IMMEDIATELY and put that fish
in the water! One camera, one picture. Period. Do NOT put them on a
stringer or in a ''live well'' if they will be relased. Do NOT take them
to shore for a ''photo opp'' with the whole camp. If the camera is in
another canoe or boat or on shore then all you have is a terrific
memory! Don't kid yourself. Ain't no way that fish will live if you drag
it around! It might look like it swims off but it will be belly up
shortly after you're gone from that spot.
Number Twelve: Treat them gently. Do not hold any fish by its
eyes! Ever! That went out years ago. Cup them under the belly if you
can. Or hold them gently, from above, near the gill openings. But don't
overdo it. Keep them in the water if possible while removing the hook.
Work with your fishing partner to minimize the damage. And please don't
toss them back into the water. Make their transition back into their
world as comfortable as it can be.
Imagine how long you'd last underwater. That's all the longer you can
expect a fish to live out of water. Tops. Hold your breath and time it.
Then factor in the difference between your lung capacity and the fish's
capacity to breathe out of water. And get 'em back in the water next
time just a tad quicker.
Now, to ward off lots of email, I want to say that I love to fish. I
even mounted my trophy ten-and-a-half pound walleye a few years ago. And
I love to eat fish. So, yes, I do kill some small to medium fish now and
then. Especially on a canoe trip where they are fresh and delicious.
However, I am proud to say that in more recent years I have not killed
any fish by my carelessness or by my eyes being larger than my stomach.
Personally, I've had some unbelievable fishing experiences, in the
past 15-20 years in our region. Experiences that I know will be next to
impossible to top in both numbers and world-class sized fish. So I know
many of you are catching on. Spread the word. Teach your family that
it's not about filling the cooler. Let 'em go to be caught again and to
reproduce. Oh, and, Good For You!