For many years there has been a strong tradition in fly fishing for the catch and release ethic. For the most part, the reasons are sound and justified. There are definitely fisheries that benefit immensely from returning fish unharmed back to the water in which they were caught. Sometimes, however, catch and release fly fishing is unnecessary and possibly even detrimental to watersheds and fish populations. Anglers should not always be so quick to return every fish they catch back into the river or lake. Fresh fish dinners that are beneficial to the environment are that much more enjoyable. Below we will discuss the advantages of catch and release and catch and keep fly fishing.
Letting Your Quarry Go Unharmed: The Advantages of Catch and Release Fly Fishing
When I was just a young boy pedaling my bike to local gravel pit ponds or fishing a trout stream with my father, the idea of catch and release as a fisheries management tool was relatively new to all types of fishing. You kept what you caught and ate what you kept. Small fish or “trash” fish were released but “keepers” were for dinner.
As fisheries biologists put more emphasis on wild fisheries and realized stocking alone could not sustain many populations, the idea of catch and release became more popular with both state wildlife agencies and fishermen themselves. Fly fishermen were quick to embrace the idea. As time passed, catch and release became more common than keeping fish in many areas and in many cases it is now required by law for different species and bodies of water.
Catch and release works to maintain healthy populations of fish and there must be enough fish in any given area to maintain or grow the population. When done properly, it is a management tool that works. Simply put, releasing fish ensures there will be fish to catch in the future. One summer a few years back, I lived right next to the Eagle River here in Vail Valley. Often, on summer evenings after guiding, I would fish the stretch near the house. I caught the same seventeen inch brown trout, which sported a unique scar, five times that summer.
Catch and release is very important when certain fish stocks are low or even at risk. Consider the small population of Bull Trout in Montana, or native cutthroats in Yellowstone Lake endangered by non-native invasive Lake Trout. It is also important to protect fish for their economic value. All tarpon now must be released in the Florida Keys. Angling pressure is extreme and tarpon are worthless as a food fish so keeping them is detrimental to the sportfishing industry. Native Steelhead in the Northwest are also protected and contribute money to local economies for their recreational angling value.
Catch and release is an ethic we follow at Vail Valley Anglers on the trout fisheries we guide. These are wild trout populations for the most part and angling pressure can be high at times. In order to maintain a healthy river with good numbers of trout, we believe in releasing all the trout we catch. We always debarb all of our hooks so fish are not injured. Two of the best tools we use that help to send fish back into the water healthy are forceps and a rubber-bagged net. Removing hooks is fast and the rubber bag cradles trout without removing their protective slime layer. Takes photos quickly, keep fish in the water whenever possible and revive any fish that don’t swim away in a hurry.
Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Web Content Writer