By Daryl Bauer
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
LINCOLN, Neb. – Catch and release is an established and important part of modern fishing.
Sure, harvesting some of the fish we catch should be a part of our fishing experience. However, our fisheries are managed for recreational fishing, and if you are just fishing for a meal, well, the grocery store likely would be a cheaper way to get your fish.
In some cases, catch and release is mandated by regulations; all length-limit regulations essentially are mandatory catch-and-release regulations. Study after study, report after report, have shown how the proper application of length limits, mandatory catch-and-release, works for producing and maintaining quality fishing. Some anglers choose to take it even further by voluntarily releasing most or all of the fish they catch.
Big fish are not difficult to catch because they are so smart but because they are so rare. In almost any population of sport fish, any species, large specimens usually are the least abundant. For that reason, I am a huge proponent of selective harvest.
I am not against harvesting some fish for a meal of fresh fish now and then. We should maintain the tradition of eating some of what we catch. Fresh fish are tasty and good for you, too. However, I do believe the days of filling the freezer with freezer-burnt fish fillets are over.
When I choose to harvest some for a meal of fresh-caught fish, I selectively choose to harvest those species and sizes of fish that are most abundant and can withstand some harvest, within the regulations, of course. Big fish, big specimens of every species, including panfish, always go back in the water as soon as possible.
Fish, including big fish, can be recycled. Whether by research or fish stories, there is proof fish caught and released can be caught again. I have seen brown trout and muskies caught and released by myself and fishing partners caught again by other anglers. A caught and released 28-inch, tagged walleye I caught later was caught and reported by another angler.
What about a trophy to hang on the wall? Reproduction mounts are just as realistic and will last much longer. Or photos can be enlarged and framed to help preserve the memories. Either way, the fish do not have to be harvested to be memorialized.
Nebraska’s Master Angler program recognizes fish caught and released for awards and encourages the practice by awarding a catch-and-release hat pin in addition to the certificate. For more on the Master Angler program, visit outdoornebraska.gov/masteranglerawards.
Famous fly fisherman Lee Wulff put it this way: “Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once.”