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After The Catch

After The Catch

Live release, or wishful thinking?

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catch and release fishing

Catch and release fishing

When the path down Sportsmanship Lane lead anglers into the noble age of catch and release fishing, we took pride in the fact that it was an admirable commitment to put back what we could have taken away from the resource. And life was good until the reality of delayed mortality appeared like a dark cloud.
   It's easy to have a positive attitude and yet slightly confused conception about catch and release fishing because we want it to be so. In our minds, we have 100 percent live release. In reality, fish can and do die for several reasons. According to TP&W (Texas Parks & Recreation) this does no harm. They claim catch and release has been good for our fisheries. I believe they're right, but I also believe there's no excuse for not taking good care of fish that will be released and expected to live.
   This is particularly true when someone is fishing a tournament with plans of winning money, related directly to those fish. Yet we still see $25,000 bass rigs pull up to weigh in, a couple of people get out - who want to win money with a bag of fish with not a drop of any kind of live release medication in the bag, sometimes without even any water in the bag. 'Catch and Release' made by SureLife Laboratories costs about $3 per bottle. Do you see anything wrong with this picture? You pay more for most lures.
   For everyday fishing you don't need to do that right? Just catching and releasing fish isn't going to hurt them if you release them immediately. Wrong, every time you touch a fish with your hands even just to remove the hook you remove areas of slime coating that protects them from fungus and disease.
   It is embarrassing that more 'Catch and Release' is sold in Japan than America. Do the Japanese care more about their fish than we do? They must, they probably have to pay three times more than you would here for it. It's easy to use. You just drop a capfull or two in the livewell. Of course you shouldn't follow the human tendency that if one or two is good, more will be better. Overdosing is almost as bad as not using it at all.
   There are many sources available for anglers that cover the subject of catch and release, fish care and livewell operation for optimum conditions. Ignorance of the simple things that can be done to insure better live release and less delayed mortality is no excuse. It isn't hard to help the fish have a better chance of survival.
   It's interesting to note that the FDA doesn't advise its use for food fish, so government employees are restricted in what they can recommend or use in studies. So they don't, or can't, recommend its use. However, after 14 years of caring for fish and rescuing fish after events, I believe this oversight is a mistake. Our tournament rules require use of the product for a reason. That reason is I personally believe it helps the fish recover from the affects of being caught and held in a livewell all day.
   It's likely that most BassResource members are more aware of fish care techniques because of the information that we have provided freely for many years. Better education of fish handling and the use of products intended to offer fish optimum live release can make a difference at any event.
   Not all statistics are equal publicly or privately, but delayed mortality, as a fact, is a very public issue. Other people see dead fish and assume the worst about tournaments. Who could blame them? And now, with studies on delayed mortality indicating higher percentages than most anglers expected or believed, the spotlight is on catch and release fishing. More to the point, the question is being asked is does it really work? Of course it does. If it didn't every lake in this state would be empty of bass.
   There are those who tend to view the released information of delayed mortality studies in less than favorable light. The general consensus is that the percentages are higher than what actually occurs. While 100 percent live release is the dream of all catch and release anglers, the reality is some fish die and always will. But again, the sensible among us also realize that certainly more survive catch and release than do if not released. Hot oil is not conducive to survival.
   Public perception, being what it is though, tends to put the hardest face on tournaments. This of course plays directly into the hands of fisheries personnel with private agendas against events. Information can be fed to newspaper reporters who, for lack of a better way to say it, also don't like tournaments. Then, it is published in a manner that tends to skew the opinions of the general public.
   It's simply not feasible to get an accurate accounting of delayed mortality from immediate release angling. Though fish do die from this as well, it isn't as noticeable and it isn't something that can be categorized and studied. No doubt more bass suffer or die from being held in a livewell all day and not properly cared for than do those that are immediately released, which is the main reason we made available long ago all information we had learned and accumulated on the care of fish. Education is important, but the one factor still barring the door for better survival rates is angler application of that shared information.
   No matter how much information we provide, anglers must put it into actual use before it can make a difference. How do we accomplish this? If anyone can ever answer that question, catch and release will undergo a major change for the better.
   It's heating up in the delayed mortality study ring and anglers who do not wish to be part of the problem must change their attitudes and their willingness to try harder to practice true catch and release. Just remember those fish didn't survive just because you kept water in the livewell, nor because you set them free after you held them all day in it. If they survived, they did so because you took the time, spent a little money and paid attention to their actual well being.
   I have said this before, but perhaps it might not have registered with some people, 'Catch and Release' is a product that I could not, and would not, fish a tournament or hold an event without. I would promote the use of this product if I had to personally pay five times as much for it as the going rate. This is one fishing product that has more value than the hot, new lure you just bought, and paid more for I might add. It gives the fish a better chance.
   The composition of this product does a number of things to enhance live release. The most vital first step in any procedure to keep fish alive is the neutralizing of negative affects of catching, handling, and livewell holding. I won't bore you with all the scientific explanations, but suffice it to say, 'Catch and Release' replaces electrolytes, neutralizes chlorine and other harmful impurities from the water, relaxes the fish and helps keep them calm, aids with slime replacement and treatment of fungus and bacterial growth on the fish. It also reduces toxic levels of ammonia and increases oxygen absorption levels in the water the fish are in. It does a lot that plain non-iodized salt can't do, in my opinion, though I do also add it to my bag of fish care elements.
   While the EPA won't approve a few ingredients in the product for use on fish for consumption, they do approve of many toxic poisons that can do far more harm to humans. So basically all they've done is tie the hands of fisheries employees at having one more thing to help fish with. But they haven't tied my hands, or yours.
   To my mind, one fish proved to me the worth of its use. She lives at Lake Fork. She's a hump-backed, scarred, blind-in-one-eye old hussy, who I have seen on three separate occasions. And on those three occasions I have relieved her air bladder, treated her with 'Catch and Release' and watched as she swam away. Now I can't guarantee she survived the third time. She might have succumbed and been a victim of delayed mortality. But I do know, for certain, she survived at least twice.
   While I am disappointed and skeptical of current delayed mortality study data that has been released publicly, I do know that there is some basis for fact. But biologists are obtaining only a portion of the results through their studies and using that data to outline complete and overall numbers and percentages. The problem with this is that numbers from an average are just that, they are averages. And those averages aren't, again in my opinion, representative of what a majority of event statistic collection would show. And don't even get me started on the fact that the controlled studies did not include the use of 'Catch and Release'.
   Nonetheless, if it's used every time you fill your livewell, you can increase the chances for survival of the fish you hold. Their future is in your hands. For the information we provide on fish care visit this web page as it is posted in its entirety and easy to print out in your own home. The information begins with the catch, follows through to the release and includes air bladder relief diagrams and information. This information has been compiled through my 15 years of experience and that of others who I have learned from like TPW biologists David Campbell and Steve Magnelia.
   Clubs, individuals who do or do not fish tournaments, but especially those winning money by the weight of the fish should attain at least as much skill in fish handling and livewell operation as they have at driving their boat. Otherwise we might as well forgo the idealistic feelings we have about catch and release and go back to eating everything we catch. Wasting fish is not only against the law, it's not very sportsmanlike either.

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