No, this is not a contest. You aren’t going to win a t-shirt or patch to have your grandma sew on your favorite fishing vest.
There is no prize that you will hold in your hand and say, “I won this” to your friends and family. In fact, you may never even vocalize that you participated. This is basically between you and the fish. This is the "Catch and Release Challenge."
It’s not official. This is me telling you to try something that I have been doing for decades. And for that matter, lots of other anglers have been doing it for much longer than me.
Maybe a catch and release angler mentioned it to you at some point or you watched a fishing show on TV when anglers released fish and thought, “What the heck, that fish would have made a great meal."
Let me make something clear: I love eating fish, I love cooking fish. As I type this, my taste buds are watering with the thought of eating fish. In fact, I’m going to eat fish tonight (I just decided). When I speak of catch and release it’s all relative to what kind of fish you are catching.
Let me give you an example. If you have a mess of nice seven- to nine-inch bluegills arranged in regimented order on the cleaning table, congratulations. You are going to enjoy one of the finest meals known to man. On the other hand, if you one of them is 10, 11 or 12 inches long, I bet you’d be happier if you’d have let it go.
This guy is nuts, you say. He’s “jumped the shark." Bear with me, this is the catch and release challenge and you need to try it.
Here’s how it works. You catch a fish that is huge. An 11- or 12-inch bullnose bluegill for example is gigantic. Ounce for ounce, nothing fights harder in my opinion. There is almost zero chance that a bluegill of that proportion is a male — these are big girl fish. They produce an incredible number of eggs and do a great job of managing the spawning process. In a nutshell, they are genetically superior. Giant fish are winners. We need them to survive. Instead of filleting it for a few minutes of stroking your taste buds, let it go. That’s right, let it go.
I can just about guarantee you’ll have a sense of pride afterward. Knowing that such a magnificent creature is still swimming and will likely produce many more fish with superior genetics for you to enjoy in the future. This goes for big bass and musky and especially trout too. Pretty much any species of fish actually.
I don’t care what biologists say, I’m telling you right now, big fish are better when they are alive. The allure of showing off your big fish be darned, take a quick photo with your cell phone and then slip them back into the water. If you catch a “mounter” then take a few quick measurements and lots of photos and have a replica made. Heck, fake fish last longer and frankly look better anyway.
Facebook will survive if you don’t have a photo of your trophy catch laying on a poorly lit patio table with a well-worn fillet knife posed next to it. Let it go.
Big fish are what make many anglers strive for. Big fish bring us back for more. The revenue stream produced by anglers pursuing trophy-sized fish is staggering. Think about tournament bass fishing. How many anglers in La Porte County have over $100,000 invested in their boat and related equipment alone? I’m sure the number is staggering.
The problem is, when angling pressure exceeds the threshold of sustainability, fishing suffers. Nobody wants to spend tens of thousands of dollars and invest a lot of time in fishing if all they catch are “dinks." Dinks are little fish by the way.
Conventional wisdom in this part of the country seems to focus on stocking. Stock more fish anglers say. They scream and holler at the DNR to spend more money on stocking. It’s a constant battle cry. The reality is, conservation works better. There is far less burden on tax payers and it assures that catchable numbers of fish — in particular of desirable sized fish — are available to anglers. Leaving big fish to spawn and produce hundreds or even thousands of offspring with better genetics is a far better way to sustain a dynamic fishery.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it, fish are going to be killed. Lots of them. The catch and release challenge is simply a way of thinking a little before bonking a big walleye or bass over the head. Once you start to release big fish you’ll find that killing any fish becomes more difficult. When you catch the same fish several times over the course of a couple fishing seasons, the catch and release challenge will make perfect sense.
So, the catch and release challenge is nothing more than me asking anglers to consider letting those big fish swim for another day. Then maybe, just maybe, another angler can enjoy catching the same fish. With any luck that guy will be taking the catch and release challenge, and let it go again.
Good luck, I hope you win.