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Getting Closer to Catch and Release

By Bill Hartnett | September 2012

As most kids get their start in fishing with their dad so did I. My dad loved the outdoors, hunting, fishing, trapping, bird dogs and hounds. He knew the song birds, the habits of the woodland animals, the types of trees, all the different bugs and where to find elderberries to make the jelly. He had many stories from his childhood and most of them were all based on the outdoors. I learned to fish through him, in those days, for the most part all fish were never let go, back then fisherman never gave it a thought. Although, when flounder fishing off Long Island, when you could get all you wanted, we didn’t take all, threw back the small ones and kept just what we felt we needed. I remember how he despised “meat fisherman” keeping small fish, fishing with a pole in each hand and keeping small blue claw crabs, giving them the business whenever he had the chance.  Long before anglers ever gave releasing a fish any thought, the catch went right on the stringer, you just had to show off your catch when someone passed by. When you got home some of the catch made it into the pan and some of it pushed up a beautiful bloom from a rose bush or a plump tomato. My passion for fishing went with me as I went off to do my service in the military during that time I enjoyed many fishing trips with one of me ship mates. On a weekend leave we were off on a fishing trip to the Ausable River in upstate New York. It was on that fishing trip where I encountered a battle with a large brown trout. After the third explosion on the surface of the river the vicious trout was finally hooked. The fish bored deep as brown trout often do and gave me a fight to remember. The bank was high, and covered with tree roots that reached deeply into the water. The fish was wise and knew where to go, he headed straight for the tangled sanctuary as I started out into the river, no boots no net just me the fish and the river. After some time a managed to pluck my catch from his watery home and the battle was over. As I paraded down a country road cars slowed to have a look at the prize I carried by its gills. When we got back to my buddies home we prepared and cooked the prized catch, looking at my prized catch I noticed that its beautiful bright colors had faded and its plump size seemed not to be what is was on the river. It is well known that an old brown is past the time of good flavor and after we finished a meal that was nothing particularly special something clicked. I had taken this fish that gave be a lifelong memory from a place where it should have stayed to reproduce and pass on its fighting genes. It is then that I truly grasped the meaning and reasoning behind catch and release. Since that time I have come to know, that the memory of the thrill from the fight of the fish you release last a lot longer than the flavor of its flesh.
 
There are times, conditions and places where taking fish for the table is totally acceptable, but I am also sure we all know when catch and release is needed and is the right thing to do. So give catch and release some thought knowing that the fish your released is keeping the gene pool still flowing and I for one am looking forward to battling your former adversary.