Appreciating aesthetics of fishing through catch and release

Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2002

Fishing is a popular pastime in the Juneau area. A good example of this can be seen at the Macauley Hatchery, inundated with anxious anglers eager to fill their freezers. Occasionally, I stop along the road and just watch the excitement and enthusiasm generated by these fishermen. We are fortunate to have such easy access to what is often excellent fishing right in the heart of Juneau!

I've done my share of fishing at this location as well but normally I seek out the confines offered along a stream or stretch of shoreline. For many years now I've been practicing the art of catch and release fishing, which is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. It seems more and more anglers are concentrating on aesthetics rather than simply the harvest associated with angling. The memories, the sounds, the colors and the solitudes of angling are taking precedence over the act of harvest.

I grew up in a generation dominated by harvest and I don't remember ever releasing a fish as a youth. It seems that everything my dad and I caught was fodder for the dinner table. Slowly I began to realize that I didn't have to harvest each and every critter I captured and the more I practice releasing fish the more my eyes began to focus on the aesthetics surrounding the experience.

In a mutated form, my first attempts at catch and release actually occurred during my early days of deer hunting. I learned early on that to bag a large deer you normally had to weed through the smaller deer. In time I began to harvest larger deer and with that my time afield increased dramatically and my knowledge of deer behavior expanded exponentially.

Similarly, I began catch and release fishing as a result of wanting more for my effort. I began to realize it made no sense at all to hike for miles on end to simply catch my limit and hike right back out. So, I started releasing fish and culling my catch, and as a result, the quality of my catch increased and my knowledge and understanding of the target species grew.

Over the years I've become more and more skilled at angling, and although I harvest my share of salmon and halibut each year, I still release most of what I catch. As a result, my photo albums are stuffed with pictures and my experiences and stories border on fiction rather that reality. To be sure, if I simply went to the field to harvest, my book of memories would be a quick read indeed.

When practicing catch and release fishing, a few simple concepts should be followed. In general, anglers should try and land their catch quickly to minimize stress. If fish are tired or exhausted, be sure to cradle the fish gently using both hands and point the fish into the current so that its gills are working correctly. Once the fish revives and tries to swim on its own, let it go.

Studies have shown that fish captured on flies or lures have greater chance of survival after release versus those caught using bait. In Southeast Alaska, strict regulations govern the use of bait and in some areas it is prohibited entirely. Hooks with barbs can be difficult to remove and I always fish with the barbs on my hooks pinched down. If I loose a fish as a result, I simply try to hook another.

Once you are ready to land your catch, avoid removing the fish from the water. Do not simply drag the fish onshore and do your best to keep the fish from flopping in shallow water. When touching the fish make sure your hands are wet and never touch the gills. Damaging the gills, removing the protective slime layer on the skin, or bruising all can result in death.

These are only a few of the concepts associated with catch and release fishing. For further information concerning this technique, sport fishing opportunities, or regulations in the Juneau area, call the Division of Sport Fish at 465-4270.

Remember, be patient and take a moment to enjoy the aesthetics associated with fishing!

Ed Jones is a fisheries biologist who loves to fish.

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