Catch And Release Is It’s Own Reward

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By Louis Cahill

I spent a week last year at the Penland school for craft, teaching a class on bamboo rod making.

I was having dinner in the dining hall one evening with ten or so folks I’d never met. Eating with new folks every night is a sort of tradition at Penland and it’s a lot of fun. Every one was curious about fly fishing so I was answering questions and generally being the ambassador for all things fish related. It came up that I practice pretty strict catch and release. A woman at the table stated, more than asked, “what is it with you fly fishermen? If I’m going to go to all the trouble to catch a fish, I’m gonna eat it! What’s wrong with you?”

I am often honest to a fault and with out thinking I answered, “fish are, I think, the most beautiful creatures that live. Every one is unique. I think that’s the real reason I fish. Just to hold them and look at them. If I didn’t fish I’d never get to do that. I like to eat fish but I guess I just don’t have it in me to kill something that beautiful. ” When I stopped talking the table was silent and everyone was looking at the woman. It was uncomfortable at best. “Oh fine”, she exclaimed, “I feel just great now” and left the table. I didn’t mean to come down hard on her. It was a sincere answer and she did ask. Frankly it kind of shocked me that everyone else didn’t see it the same way.

Last year I had the pleasure of teaching my oldest friend to fly fish. He was so excited when he caught his first fish, a beautiful little brook trout. I taught him to wet his hands before touching it and showed him how to hold the fish and revive it. Then I told him, “pay close attention, this is my favorite part. Relax your grip but don’t move your hand and for just a few seconds he will sit there, in your hand, of his own free will.” When the fish swam away he looked at me in true astonishment. So many fishermen miss that moment. A wild animal sitting, by choice, in your hand. Imagine doing that with a bird, for example. I loved sharing it.

On a recent trip to Wyoming’s Green River I had a day to myself and I did something I very seldom get the chance to do. I left the camera behind and just went fishing. After about a half hour of fishing I was working a hopper along a seam when a big olive head came up and gulped it. A few minutes later I was holding a beautiful wild brown, a little over twenty inches. I brought him into an eddy behind a rock to revive him. He was in good shape so I loosened my grip and waited. But he didn’t swim off. It was odd. He was clearly ok but he just sat there. I took my hands away all together. He sat upright, perfectly happy finning in the eddy. I reached down and ran my fingers along his lateral line. He stayed. I stroked the top of his head. He stayed. His scales were soft and smooth as glass. I could feel the bones in his fins. I sat and petted the big brown like a cat for a minute or more before he glided back into the seem. It was surreal and wonderful. I’ve released thousands of fish and I’ve never seen anything like it. That would have to be one pretty tasty fish!


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline

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6 thoughts on “Catch And Release Is It’s Own Reward

  1. Louis, you expressed how I feel about catching wild fish very eloquently. Some groups ridicule catch and release fishing as cruel torture but I see it as our way to get a glimpse at one of God’s most beautiful creations. Every wild trout seems to be a work of art. I will say that I do love the taste of fresh trout, but to me that’s what stocked fish are there for.
    BTW, I didn’t know you built bamboo rods. I’m currently reading up in and plan on attempting my first rod. Love to pick your brain on that sometime.

    • Thanks Guys!

      Jed, that’s a great point that I think is really important, especially for new anglers. If you are going to take a fish, take the right fish. I’ve heard, even experienced angler, say “well, it was so fish of a lifetime so I kept it”. That’s exactly the wrong idea. Keep enough S.N.I.T.s to to do the job and let that big beautiful wild fish spread his genes! Most folks don’t realize that as a rule stocked fish don’t reproduce. If you kill a wild fish your not just killing one fish, your killing the future generation. If a fish has beat the odds and made it to trophy size, chances are the reason is genetic and his offspring stand a better chance of being quality fish. By releasing that trophy you are reinforcing the gene pool.

      Before I start an argument I should clarify that some stocked fish reproduce. If the stocking is done correctly, which it almost never is, a high percentage will reproduce. Fish are wired to spawn where they were born. A hatchery fish can not get back to the hatchery so it doesn’t spawn. A rare fish will ignore it’s instinct and spawn anyway if there are wild fish present and spawning. If the fish are stocked by “egg stocking” where eggs are placed in the river in good habitat using a device called a vert box, they will live, look and spawn like wild fish. The method is expensive and labor intensive and only groups like TU will take it on and then only in special cases but it is an awesome stocking method and I’d love to see it more widely used.

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