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Fishing Friendly Harvest

Fishing for fun or food which ever goal suits you can be equally rewarding. Even the “cast for cash” crowd can benefit from careful handling of fish or management of the resource. Years ago, a crusade was started advocating catch and release. Spearheaded by trout fishing folks who persistently pushed for anglers to return every fish caught. I got caught up in the concept of strict release and at some point, realized that correctly managing the resource and fish population is an integral part of the responsible outdoors participant. Just as a farmer harvests his crop so too should we selectively use the fish as a food source. The recent Covid pandemic, social distancing as well as inflation has pointed people in the direction of outdoor pursuits and selective harvest of fish and wild game. Properly applied populations benefit from resource management. The result is healthier, sustainable numbers and developing superior of the species.

Hints for the Harvest

First government agencies set standards for harvest of every type of game. The numbers and size are determined by studies conducted by them. Creel surveys, game check in and population studies determine what limits and details should be for each area and species. From personal standpoint each outdoor participant can determine the best course of action within the parameters set. For example, in the state of Tennessee in the area I fish the limit on crappie is 15 that measure at least 10 inches. In hopes of keeping my favorite fishing holes well stocked I have self-imposed rule that I only keep 50% of my crappie catch (keep one, release one) and string enough for a meal plus two more.

In our case that’s normally six fish equaling twelve fillets. In the case of bluegill, the population is enormous and there’s no limit, but I only want to clean a dozen. As far as bass (Yep, we eat the too) we keep the smallest legal bass because that way they are an easily renewable resource. They are replaced in 12 to 18 months in the healthiest waters. In smaller waters for every bass we take we keep ten bluegills to maintain a balance in the more sensitive eco-system. Because we admire the search and fight of the smallmouth bass we never keep any. The largemouth and Kentucky spotted bass are more plentiful and more likely to end up on a stringer and at the table when we’re food fishing. If a fish is deeply hooked, bleeding especially around the gills, or shows difficulty swimming away we keep it. The next logical discussion is successful handling and release.

Turning Them Loose

On my partner Debbie explains, “While I fished with my father in the 60’s he would release big fish, but the bluegill, crappie and catfish went home as a major source of our food supply. We release most of our fish and keep some in the fall, generally crappie but sometimes smaller legal bass.”

As for me, I learned the value of catch and release. I caught and tagged (check your local regulations) one bass five times, each time on a plastic worm or jig. Another fish was a five pounder and one year later I was able to catch the same fish a mile and a half upriver! A few recommendations:

1. Careful handling of fish increases the odds they’ll live to fight another day. Avoid touching the eyes or gills to reduce the chance of a bacterial infection dooming the fish.
2. Using a rubberized landing net will make it less likely to damage fins or remove body slime (also is a safeguard against getting a hook stuck in your hand).
3. Snap a quick pic and return the fish quickly. Anything under 30 seconds is the best bet for survival.
4. In warm / hot water, anything above 75 degrees try to play the fish in quickly. In warmer water you risk the fighting fish getting a build up of lactic acid and experiencing a full body “Charlie horse” causing it to be paralyzed and sink.
5. If you fish tournaments and need to lay the fish on a bump board wet the board (and your hands) before handling the fish.
6. I keep pliers handy for deeply hooked fish. I advise new anglers to remove the hook the same way it went in, no twisting.
7. If a fish is incapable of swimming off you have a decision to make, keep the fish or take the chance that it will survive or lastly become food for scavengers in the water.
8. Care in handling fish almost always ensures their survival to thrill another angler in the future BUT there’s no shame in using the resource for the nourishment of the body.

To be a caretaker of the outdoor resources help keep the water and woods clean, harvest fish and game responsibly and leave the environment minimally the way you found it OR better. A fishing friendly harvest is an investment in the future of fishing.