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I've had this article for awhile, may have even posted it on GFO centuries ago...but after reading TVFisherman's post on getting haggled for keeping a few crappie, I thought I would post it. Pretty good reading.


Nothing fishy about eating catch


I did something the other day. Word may eventually leak out, so I figure it's probably best to be up front about it.

I killed a largemouth bass. Then I ate it.

OK. Not just one bass - three.

Now, before you fire up the torches to run me out of town, let me ask one question about this.

So what?

It wasn't like I broke any laws. The fish weren't trophies. In fact, they all came from my father-in-law's rarely fished, chock-full-of-bass farm pond.

Still, I admit it felt a little strange throwing bass in a bucket and hauling them home. That's the power of the catch-and-release ethic in today's angling society.

Not too long ago, there was no such thing as catch-and-release. Sure, some anglers released all or most of the fish they landed. In most cases, if you caught a fish, you killed it. Most got eaten, but some just got hung up for pictures then tossed into the vegetable garden to fertilize the soil.

Things started to change in the everyday fisherman's world about three decades ago, with the explosion in popularity of bass tournaments.

Tournament bigwigs started the catch-and-release craze, but not simply because it seemed like the right thing to do. The earliest tournaments weren't catch-and-release. The requirement was implemented after everyday fishermen - informed in many cases by insightful reporters like retired Roanoke Times outdoors editor Bill Cochran - started complaining about pro anglers killing loads of trophy fish.

Regardless of why catch-and-release got started in bass fishing, most anglers will agree that it's generally a good thing. It keeps more fish in the system, which theoretically should lead to better fishing for everybody.

These days, the vast majority of bass fishermen, whether fishing for fun or fishing in tournaments, release every bass they catch, including trophies. Many cast a disapproving eye on those who keep bass.

Bass fishermen are probably the most serious about catch-and-release, but fishermen who target wild trout aren't far behind. I've seen fishermen nearly come to blows over the killing of a wild trout.

Has catch-and-release gone too far?

Some fish rights activists certainly think so. Recently, some have taken to publicly bashing the practice.

Catching a fish, whacking it on the head and eating it is one thing, they say. Catching a fish purely for fun then releasing it, they claim, amounts to barbaric harassment and torture.

Even some fishermen have jumped on the bandwagon. A national outdoor magazine recently published a column by a fly fishermen who advocated catching and killing a limit of trout, then stopping fishing. Because some released fish die, he correctly pointed out, anglers who catch and release dozens of fish in a day may be killing more fish than the meat fisherman.

This is one of those cases where those extreme views are, well, extreme.

Most of us fish because we enjoy it, not because we're hungry. When we do want to take some fish home for the pan, we shouldn't feel guilty about it, as long as we're abiding by fishing regulations laws. Most waters aren't hurt by a moderate level of fish harvest. The fact is, natural mortality generally takes a higher toll on fish populations than human angling.

At the same time, who can condemn someone who chooses to release every fish he catches? Those who take this approach need to understand that they are killing some fish, even if they're not taking them home.

There are exceptions, of course. Heavy catch-and-keep fishing can hurt fragile fisheries like tiny trout streams. Release mortality is so high for summer-caught striped bass that most fisheries managers urge anglers to keep their limit then stop fishing.

My habits won't change much in the wake of my recent bass-killing spree. I'll continue to release the majority of fish I catch. To satisfy my occasional hankering for fresh fish, though, I'll take home a few from time to time.

Maybe even a bass or wild trout or two.
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