Catch and Release

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23-01-1999

There are three types of catch and release. Alan Simmmons covers them here and other aspects of C&R. First published in Hawkes Bay Fish And Game Councils 1997 Fishing Magazine.

THE THREE TYPES OF CATCH AND RELEASE

It was a glorious day. I had my hat pulled down over my face to keep the brilliance of the sun’s rays from blinding me as I lay snuggled up against a large flowering toi toi bush. The constant rippling of water next to me was a reminder we were enjoying one of New Zealand’s most beautiful trout fishing rivers. Drowsily, I cocked one eye open, keeping Peter in sight from time to time. It was not hard to doze off again, soaking up the beautiful warmth of the sun; suddenly I was jolted awake by a yell and looked up to see Peter’s rod bent over obviously connected to a large rainbow trout. Over the past week Peter had had the opportunity of playing and releasing a lot of fish and now he was on his last day trying very hard to get a double figure one. I watched quietly as he played the fish eventually bringing it to the bank.
He yelled out across the river, “Do we want this one for dinner. it’s a really good one”
I responded, telling him to kill the fish.
Peter had seen a few New Zealanders kill fish on the Tongariro River and, copying them in true kiwi fashion, he grabbed a big rock, and gave it an almighty thump. What a shame his thumb was still in the way. He let out an almighty scream sticking his thumb in his mouth and leaping up and down. I stood there and laughed while Peter danced around in obvious pain and laughed even more when the forgotten fish gave two quick flips back into the water and swam away.
Now that is one method of “catch and release” called the “accidental catch and release” and it can take many varied forms. I’ve seen fish suddenly come to life and swim away from those tiny holding pools that people often build on The Tongariro River while the angler continues to fish quite oblivious to the fact that this fish had decided to release itself. I once witnessed an angler crossing the river carrying two fish who suddenly dropped them and the current ripped the fish away down the river before he could recover them. I suppose that’s also a form of “catch and release” even though the fish are obviously well and truly dead. Can you imagine the questions when the angler gets home? “How many did you catch?” “Well, I caught two but, um, lost ’em!”
My Labrador dog has come home several times carrying a prime rainbow trout in his mouth after one of his regular afternoon excursions down the Tongariro river. I guess he quietly picks them up from where the angler has left them. Once he even bought me home a fish complete with a carry handle attached.

Another form of “catch and release” is the one with which most people are familiar. It’s the “midstream” release, in which the angler plays the fish for several minutes, quite jolly, letting the world around him know that he has hooked into a fish. Suddenly the fish and the line part company and with a nonchalant comment he turns to the crowd and says, “I did that deliberately because I wanted to let that fish go.” Of course, we all believe him. After all, we all do the same thing … deliberately. It’s part of the art of flyfishing to release fish at distance without even touching them.

Most anglers, of course, practice the more traditional method of “catch and release,” i.e., catch a fish, land it and release it. In practice, it has allowed the resource to be shared by many people and has been one method used by fishery managers to allow a greater number of participants to fish without limiting access. In many cases, “catch and release” has worked extremely well, even with wild fish populations where the same fish has been able to be caught by several people over a season. It is, however, not without its problems, and my experience is that there is a considerable death rate from “catch and release”, albeit often unknown to the angler. I believe that anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of all fish caught and released eventually die. If you put into context that “catch and release” allows an angler to catch large numbers of fish in a day, it may be that the death rate could end up more than the daily limit bag.

To my mind, “catch and release” does have some serious repercussions for fishery managers who may not be aware what the real harvest from the resource is. This harvest comes about not by the actual taking of a fish from the resource but from the actual death rate just from the sheer enjoyment of fishing. In the course of a day, I have observed many fish handled quite badly, especially by tourists holding the fish very close to their chest to stop it slipping out of their hands while they have a photograph taken. I’ve seen the fish dropped several times onto the rocky shoreline while the angler has tried to get a photograph taken of the biggest trout of his life. And then, after this whole process of being dropped, “hugged” and being kept out of the water for some 3 or 4 minutes, the fish is then “released” to live and fight another day. Well, in my experience, that fish is now actually a dead fish. It begs the question that if the limit bag on a river is three, and an angler goes on to catch 20 fish for the day, having several photographs taken in the same manner as above, it may be that the real kill from that angler is 6 or 7 fish? Now that bears some thinking about.
We have had days in remote mountain rivers where 30 or more fish have been caught by very experienced anglers, played as quickly as possible, brought gently to the shore and then released by using the forceps without touching the fish. Even on those days I have still seen a considerably high death rate from our efforts. I almost know now which ones are going to live and those which will die and in some cases, I have actually seen fish belly up in the last throws of dying come drifting down past our camp and after retrieving the fish have recognised it as one that we caught upriver earlier that day because of various markings or marks. Now it occurred to me if expert anglers doing everything right have some die, then just how high is the death rate with inexperienced anglers using very lightweight gear and less gentle techniques?
What then is the alternative?. Is it to catch three fish and then leave the fishery? This would not be acceptable to most anglers and I am sure Fish and Game Councils would have some difficulty with such a proposition. The responsibility therefore for the continuing health of a fishery has to lie with the angler himself. With “catch and release” goes a responsibility to actually do so in a manner that will give the fish a very good chance of being there on another day for another angler.

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