Outdoor Corner: Catch and Release

Lyle Johnson
I caught these two sac-a-lait in the Amite River a few years back. They found their way to a pot of hot grease then to our kitchen table.

A lot of us that read this article are old enough to remember a time not too long ago when the phrase “catch and release” in bass fishing or any other fish had never been heard or thought of. We mostly just went fishing, caught as many bass as we could, and brought them all home--even at times exceeding creel limits. We never really gave it a thought. We would never run out of bass.

Then came along BASS, and bass fishing tournaments on a national scale were birthed. I remember seeing pictures of unbelievable stringers of big bass, and even they didn’t think anything about keeping them all.

But after a while all those 15 fish stringers that were harvested sparked an idea in the head of BASS founder, Ray Scott. Why not try to keep the fish alive and let them go after weighing them in. Thus began the concept of catch and release on a national scale. I’m sure there were always a few individuals that probably let fish go at times, but I mean on a wholesale scale.

As bass fishing’s popularity began to grow, the need to decrease creel limits also came into the limelight. That’s the job of biologists, to maintain a balance of wildlife (in this case fish), available fish to the number harvested. But none of these changes were met with overwhelming delight from bass fishermen who had been accustomed to catching and keeping all they wanted.

As time went on, gradually things began to change and the concept caught on more and more. But as in most cases of a pendulum swinging, it never stops in the middle. It keeps going to the other side. The same thing happened with catch and release.

As the pendulum passed the midway point, some folk’s attitudes changed and began to look down on others that kept bass for consumption. It seemed as though some thought everyone should have to release every bass they caught, and it was wrong to keep a bass. And the very mention of eating a bass was more than they could stand.

On the other side, some go out of their way to keep every bass they catch, no matter the size. Remember, I’m not lumping everyone into one category or the other, just examining both sides of the coin.

I truly believe that to keep a healthy number of any creature in nature, there must be a harvest. In the animal kingdom, it would be very foolish not to remove any for management purposes as well as for table fare. The populations would increase and do much more harm than good.

Deer populations have increased so much that they have become a nuisance is some areas our country. If you travel the roads at all, deer killed by a car are seen on a regular basis. Blue and snow geese have literally eaten themselves and other waterfowl out of house and home because of overpopulation, to the point that electronic calls are allowed with unplugged shotguns and no limit on how many you can kill.

So a reasonable harvest of our fisheries is needed as well. The best analogy I’ve ever heard by a biologist was from Jerald Horst, a retired LSU fisheries biologist. “You can’t stockpile wildlife, especially fish. Something will happen in nature to take them away. So you might as well take out some for human consumption.”

In South Louisiana there is a nine letter word that starts with an “h” and ends with "urricane" that decimates the population of fish very drastically way too often. In all of our great efforts to conserve the fish in our area, a hurricane comes and wipes them out. So technically, all the fish that were released died anyway.

Hurricane Isaac was our last visitor that wiped out a great number of fish in the Amite/Blind River basins. We haven’t seen a fish kill for a while, not even in the 2016 flood. The fisheries around here are better than I’ve seen in my 65 years that I can remember in size and quantity. Now’s a good time to take advantage of the abundance in moderation.

Now for all the tournament fishermen who think that they are doing the bass population no harm at all let me inform you of the facts. In a past Bassmaster’s magazine an article was written by conservationist writer, Robert Montgomery dealing with bass mortality rates at their tournaments.

BASS goes to much pain to ensure that as many fish as they release has a chance to survive. Even with all the care they take, they admit that their mortality rate is at least 35%. When 100 bass are released at an event, 35 or more die after being released. Our local tournaments could be higher. Sort of shocking, isn’t it?

On the other hand, nothing pains me more than to see a box full of egg-filled, female bass in an ice chest, not having a chance to lay her eggs. Some choose to harvest everything caught on every fishing trip. Both ends of the pendulum are unfair to those who are in the middle.

I’ve been blessed to be born into a fishing family that allowed me to fish probably since before I can remember. I have caught enough fish of all kinds and sizes, so if I never catch another I’m good. So personally, I choose to release many of the bass along with plenty of other species I catch, especially in the spring. But I also choose to harvest some of my catch for some of the best table fare that has ever been enjoyed by my family for at least two generations.

What is the answer? Self-government is the highest form of government. If we don’t govern or regulate ourselves, someone will pass a law that will attempt to accomplish that which we refuse to do on our own.

We don’t have to keep the limit if we are successful. We don’t have to keep any at all. But we would like to keep some to eat. Remember the words of Bill Dance, “Keep what you can eat and release the rest.”

Govern yourself!

So until next time, keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!