Fly fishing is more than just a sport—it’s also a vital element in preserving our water ecosystems. Catch and release, a practice now synonymous with fly fishing, allows us to partake in the thrill of the catch without depleting fish populations. This practice is rapidly gaining traction among anglers who see the value of sustainable fishing.
Over my lifetime I have seen some of my favorite rivers where ‘catch and cook’ was a popular mentality slowly decline in fish population to the point where you have to walk for miles before coming across a fish. Thankfully, times are changing.
An Overview of Catch and Release Fly Fishing
Catch and release fly fishing has become the norm rather than the exception in the fly fishing industry. Thanks to increasing awareness of the need to protect our water ecosystems, the majority of fish hooked are returned to their natural habitat. This is also due to stringent regulations in many states and provinces mandating catch and release in designated waters.
Benefits of Catch and Release
If you’re wondering why you should practice catch and release, here are some compelling reasons:
Improved Fishery Health
Catch and release contribute to the overall health of our fisheries. By returning the fish to its environment, we allow it to continue its lifecycle—reproduce and grow. This translates into more fishing opportunities in the future. Plus, it helps keep the ecosystem balanced by maintaining the food chain and preventing overfishing.
Always remember to “Fish for Tomorrow”
Increased Fish Populations
This practice can also bolster fish populations. By releasing fish back into the water, they survive, reproduce, and therefore increase the number of fish in our waters. This is especially crucial for threatened or endangered species, as it contributes to their survival and growth.
More Opportunities for Anglers
Catch and release also offer more opportunities for you, the angler. It allows you to fish to your heart’s content without worrying about quotas or dwindling fish numbers.
4 Step Guide to Catch and Release Fish Safely
Above all, you must take care when handling fish and remember they are fragile. Always wet your hands before handling the fish to avoid removing their protective slime. Time is of the essence release the fish as quickly as possible to reduce stress and increase survival rates. Here are 4 steps to safely catch and release fish:
Step 1: Catching and Landing Fish
- Stay close and attentive to reduce deep hook swallowing.
- Land the fish quickly to prevent exhaustion.
- Use landing nets, especially for large fish.
Step 2: Handling the Catch
- Keep the fish wet and calm.
- Support the fish in water, avoid unnecessary removal.
- Handle gently, without squeezing, and never hold by the gills.
- Use wet hands or gloves.
Step 3: Removing the Hook
- Keep the fish in water or upside down for calmness.
- Use tools like needle-nosed pliers for quick removal.
- If the hook is deeply embedded, cut the line close to the hook.
Step 4: Releasing the Fish
- Allow full recovery before release.
- Hold the fish underwater in an upright position.
- Face the fish into the current for oxygenation.
- Release in calmer water if caught in fast-moving water.
Remember: Use Barbless Hooks!
Barbless hooks are a gift to fish and fishermen alike. They’re easier to remove and cause less damage to the fish, making them ideal for catch and release.
Challenges of Catch and Release Fly Fishing
Mortality Rates of Released Fish
Not all released fish survive. Factors such as improper handling, exhaustion, barotrauma (injury caused by rapid pressure change), or predation can result in post-release mortalities. Therefore, it’s crucial to master the appropriate catching and releasing techniques to minimize these risks.
Limited Knowledge of Proper Release Techniques
A lack of knowledge of proper release techniques can also pose a challenge. Hence, spreading awareness and knowledge about these techniques should be a priority for the angling community.
Catch and release is more than a practice—it’s a commitment to preserving our fish populations for future generations of anglers. It involves proper handling techniques, adherence to local regulations, and the use of barbless hooks. By embracing this practice, you’re contributing to the sustainability of our fisheries and the health of our fish populations.
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