By Justin Pickett
Catch and Release has become almost a standard of practice over the past several years, even more so, it seems, in the fly fishing culture.
The ever-changing culture within the fly fishing world has put the squeeze on those that choose to keep certain species or fish from certain fisheries. Sustainability. Preservation. Conservation. The words resonate through numerous articles, meetings, and video productions, and for good reason. If we want these precious resources to be around much longer, we’re going to have to start giving a damn and taking care of our streams, rivers, lakes, oceans, and estuaries. So yeah, I’m a big proponent of catch and release. With that said, I believe there is still room for improvement even amongst those anglers that do practice catch and release.
It’s summer time in the Deep South. You’ve just landed a big, gorgeous, female rainbow on one of your favorite north Georgia streams. You’ve played her hard for several minutes. She’s given her all trying to free herself from your fly and she’s worn out. You’re intentions are the usual quick photo and then an easy release to ensure that she “lives to fight another day.” But…. What if that’s not enough?
Come summer time, water temps are usually at the upper limits of a trout’s tolerance, especially in the lower elevation rivers and streams of the southeast, so making sure that a trout has been properly revived is of the upmost importance. In this situation, just making sure that you release the fish quickly may not be enough to ensure that it “lives to fight another day”. Bigger trout seem more susceptible to unrecoverable fatigue, to the point of going “belly up” if not allowed to recover before being released properly.
Just like in our own bodies, during extended periods of exertion, lactate levels spike resulting in an increase in the acidity levels within the muscles’ cells.
To keep things short, the crazy process that is responsible for the increased production of lactate (lactic acid) during extended periods of strenuous activity temporarily prevents the muscle cells from using oxygen as the fuel for muscle contractions and causes the fish to become fatigued during a long fight, if not completely exhausted. In order to correct this temporary acidotic state, two things need to happen; 1. Rest and 2. Oxygen! For humans, the oxygen is an afterthought. When we get tired we just rest and the oxygen just comes naturally. We breathe air, so it is readily available to our bodies. However, for a trout, the oxygen is found in the water. And not just any water, but cold, preferably moving water. The longer a fish is kept out of the water after a fight, the more it becomes difficult to recover that fish. The temporary damage that occurs during this spike in lactate levels can become too overwhelming to overcome, causing the fish to be too weak to return to a river or stream’s flows.
So, as responsible anglers, what can we do?
First thing’s first. Let’s do a better job of keeping the fish in the water. That includes you, me, myself, and I. Keep ‘em wet! From here on out I’m going to do an even better job of keeping the fish in the water while photographing and releasing my fish. I’m not saying “don’t take photos with your fish.” We all do it, or have done it. Let’s just be conscious of the amount of time the fish is out of the water. Keep them in the water as much as possible, only lifting them from the water for a second or two to shoot a quick photo. The next big thing that I really want to harp on is actually recovering the fish before it is released, especially larger trout. These guys and gals can be way harder to recover after a long fight, especially in warmer water that carries even less oxygen. Take the time to stay with that fish and recover them properly. Gently grasp the tail with one hand, and, with the other hand, cradle their belly just behind the gill plates. Stage them in some moving water to ensure that they have water running through their gills. Don’t put them in the fastest flows, you don’t want them, or you, to get overwhelmed by the current. You may even have to support them initially in keeping their head turned upstream, which is a sign that he/she is exhausted. Take cues from the fish to let you know that they are ready to go. Most of the time, trout will start to shake their head and kick their tail in an attempt to try to swim away from you, however, sometimes you may need to give them a little nudge upstream. If they’re able to do these things under their own power, then chances are they have had enough time to recover and won’t be found on the bank downstream. If you try to slide them upstream and they either can’t hold their head into the current, or just go belly up, then it’s going to require more time. There have been a handful of times that I’ve spent up to ten minutes, literally sitting on my butt in the water with a trout. In a way it sucks, because you want that fish to be healthy enough to not need that much recovery time, and of course you want to get back to fishing. On the other hand though, I’ve come to really enjoy that time as well. You get to really admire these beautiful creatures and take pride in knowing you did everything you needed to do in order to make sure they were able to tail slap your arm on their way back home.
Let’s all do a better job with our catch and release efforts! Let’s work on Catch, Revive, then Release!
Catch us on Instagram and tag your responsible release photos/videos with #CatchReviveReleaseJustin Pickett Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com email@example.com Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!