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Releasing your catch means taking care of the fish and the future  

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I’d like to start with a few things about releasing fish because the “catch and release” doctrine has become more of a requirement than a voluntary gesture. 

The first six words of the song “Release Me” by Eddie Miller and W.S. Stevenson, and recorded by Ray Price really defines  the fate of a fish perhaps about to be returned to the water or doomed to the frying pan,   

“Please release me, let me go” was the lament.

I remember that song from when I was in the Army stationed at Fort Ord.   One of my buddies was a great guitar player and country singer.  We would go to a honky-tonk tavern on South Main Street in Watsonville.  He would sing and another buddy and I would stand around and protect the singer from the disorderly drunks trying to maul the singer.  I always remember that song Release Me, he would sing it frequently and I often think of that song frequently.  I even sing it to the fish, usually a trout, when returned to the water.


On the Klamath River, “catch and release” is required if you intend on catching trout or steelhead over and over again.  Many anglers forget the limit is one trout or steelhead per day. No ands, ifs or buts.  In addition, you must possess a steelhead report card.    If you continue fishing with one trout in your creel, you had better be angling for salmon, suckers.  If you happen to nail another trout with one in the creel, it must be released unharmed.  Easier said than done.  Your fish may be bleeding profusely and won’t live.  This could end up as a violation of over limit unless you throw the fish back in the water doomed to die.

That scenario is quite common.  And maybe too common. There exists a considerable mortality rate among released fish in areas where there are reduced or no limits.  Efforts are being made to add further restrictions such as barbless hooks, single hooks, and bait or lure restrictions.   There are some waters that are fly fishing only because that type of angling has minimal effect on the mortality of fish. 

There is a strong catch and release fraternity among bass anglers.  This is understandable in as much as it has turned into a rich industry and following and a rich American tradition/religion.   The “Church of the Anglers” is present all throughout the vast waters of the U.S. . . .  The catch and release doctrine is religiously practiced by anglers from Texas to Wisconsin,   and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  I think the old tradition of “limit” fishing is definitely on its way out.    We can of all people, take our hats off to President Ulysses S. Grant for  his foresight in starting fish hatcheries after the early westward movement was depleting  the fishery resources.   In those days, a fish in hand was headed to the frying pan.

I remember my grandfather one time on the Diamond Fork of the Spanish Fork River, a place loaded with wild cutthroat trout, would chew me out if I released a small trout.  Limits in those days in most western states were around 15 fish.   Then in California, it went down to a limit of 10 and then subsequently to 5 fish.   Now, on the Shasta River, there is a 0 limit.

Though we may grumble, there are good reasons for the reductions of limits or no take waters.    One of the best reasons in my estimation is the efforts by fisheries officials is to sustain the native wildness in many pristine and productive waters.  That, in turn, to provides quality angling for the future.   Especially for trout species.   Bass d will always prevail and are much easier to manage. 

More and more now regulations are moving toward not taking wild trout or steelhead in many waters of the state.  Especially here in the North State area.  Accordingly, it is very important that anglers learn to release fish carefully so they will survive.  This in leads toward enhancing the wild fish populations.

There are many free publications available on how to effectively and gently release fish.  The California Department of Fish and Game in their regulation publication describes how to release a fish.

To help things along with releasing fish, many fishing areas require the use of barbless hooks.   Again, this is an effort to further reduce the mortality rate of released fish.  It also gives the fish a better chance to get off the line before the angler brings the fish to the net.  Barbed hooks frequently increase the likelihood of causing the fish to bleed which in turn can be fatal even if the fish was released still bleeding.

If for any reason, the fish you intend on releasing is found to have swallowed the hook, please do not yank or attempt to pull the hook out.  Simply cut the leader at the mouth leaving the hook inside.  This will give the fish a better chance for survival when released.  In time, the acid in the stomach may dissolve the hook.

When releasing a fish, do not keep them out of the water and please handle with care.  If the fish is lively, give it a kiss and let it swim off.  Some fish, if played a long time, need to be helped by gently pulling them back and forth in the water until energy is gained and it can swim off on its own.

All of these regulations are requiring anglers to have more discipline and compliance.  The state is full of anglers who are tuned to the “good old days’ not consistent with today’s angling atmosphere.  Thus, we all return to the simple but present need to release the fish with care.

I suppose there is going to be some confusion about some of the regulations and how they are accepted into the minds of the angling public

Those regulations have to cover many diverse watersheds.   The most critical of course being here in the North State. 

I often wonder realizing how difficult it may be to manage all these watersheds, if the leadership and decision makers of the Department of Fish and Game have some effective method they use to determine limits and restrictions I have discussed...  I really wonder if they base this on actual studies or simply roll the dice and see which one they might implement restrictions upon.

Alternatively, perhaps do they base all these regulations on the one-size fits all theory with regards to closures?

I think most anglers would agree with me that how they arrive at these particular angling restrictions and regulations might need better clarification.  Many anglers are not happy at having more regulations and increased license fees put on the public.    Managing the fisheries in the west and its beautiful lakes and rivers is quite a challenge given the massive increase in population growth leading to more and more demand upon the fisheries management.   The catch and release policy however is a step in the right direction that will sustain the wild populations which will ensure quality fishing in the future.

 Remember Ray Price and the song.


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