Sunday Classic / Catch And Release Is It’s Own Reward

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It was surreal and wonderful.

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 “Sunday Classic / Catch And Release Is It’s Own Reward

  1. To me there is nothing more exciting than catching trout on a fly line, the release of a beautiful creature is also a part of the thrill. Nothing beats the process of fly fishing, from standing in what you know is prime water, to catching and releasing a fish to soaking up the scenery. It is all part of a wonderful day spent doing something you enjoy and realizing there is much more to this old world than the stack of papers on your desk. Fish to find yourself…you will be amazed at what you find.

  2. It seems some fish develop a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. They’ll hover around your feet after release, so much so, you have to watch your step.
    I’ve seen folks keep fish seemingly out of spite, domination or entitlement. Sad.

  3. Great post. For me, the passion of the entire experience beats bringing it home to eat it. Lee Wulff, once said, “A good game fish is too valuable to be caught only once. The fish you release is your gift to another angler and remember, it may have been someone’s similar gift to you.” Anlgers here in GA think every pond and river is a bottomless pit fish market. Unfortunatley, even DNR promotes “put and take” fisheries. Always wish there was more I could do for the cause.

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