For many years I fished for trout at a local fishery that allows catch and release. It was great fun. There was no pressure to catch a limit. I could stay as long as I liked or until the pub opened. However, the trout had all been caught several times and the fishing was very difficult. At first I had a lot of blank days. One afternoon an angler near me caught about twenty fish to my zero. I wandered along the bank and asked what fly he was using. “Buzzers, too easy” was his somewhat curt reply. I stood at his side and watched. He stood still, silently watching his line. Without comment he slowly lifted into another fish. I hadn’t seen the take. It was a turning point for me. I went home and tied a load of buzzers.
It took a lot of willpower to fish a static buzzer but I watched the end of the leader like a hawk and soon found myself in ‘catch and release’ mode. Most afternoons I caught about a dozen fish and I explained about the method to anyone who asked me.
Eventually I had a dilemma. Each time a trout was caught it became even more averse to artificial flies. I had to scale down to 1.5lb bs tippet and size 18 buzzers. This was prolonging the fight and the fish had to be nursed for 15-20 minutes before they swam away. On occasions I saw anglers chuck trout back in the water without a glance and quickly recast. The standards had dropped and I’d had enough of that fishery.
I like to eat the occasional trout. My neighbours’ freezers are full and the pub doesn’t want any more of my trout. I don’t want to take several trout home after each trip. Thankfully I have now found a place to fish that allows me to decide whether or not I release fish.
In the first half of the last Century anglers in the UK used to kill everything they caught. Food was scarce and the fish were plentiful. Things have changed. Coarse fisheries now insist that all fish are returned and most salmon fisheries in the UK are mainly catch and release. Studies on rod caught salmon, using radio tracking devices, show that 100% survival and subsequent spawning is possible with very careful handling. An Irish study of salmon concluded that 98% survival to spawning is possible on fly caught fish but only 55% on lure caught fish. There is 100% mortality of deeply hooked or bleeding fish.
This trout has just been released and is resting on the sand before swimming off into the pool.
A catch and release study on pike, supported by laboratory experiments, suggests that it takes up to six hours for a fish to recover physically if it is kept out of water for five minutes. Exposure to air also affects the behavior of the fish.
I only buy barbless hooks but I have a collection of several thousand flies tied on barbed hooks. Before I use an ‘old’ fly I crush the barb with artery forceps. It’s good to see them swim away.