The Food Chain

The Food Chain

My catch-and-release habit has been so reflexive for so many decades that it is difficult for me to accurately remember the battle of emotions I underwent

My catch-and-release habit has been so reflexive for so many decades that it is difficult for me to accurately remember the battle of emotions I underwent to reach this point. But as near as I can recall, just prior to my C&R conversion the devil on my left shoulder was arguing strenuously against the idea of "throwing back" a perfectly good fish--and so was the angel on my right shoulder.

The devil said, "Possession is everything, baby. If you don't show that stiffening carcass to everyone you meet, you might as well not have caught it."

And the angel said, "When you stop fishing in order to put food on the table, then you're just playing with your food--not to mention tormenting a poor creature for nothing more than your own amusement."

As the angel dabbed his eyes with a lace handkerchief, the devil added: "You throw back that beautiful fish and somebody else catches it, it becomes their fish, not yours."

What finally turned the worm for me was nothing spiritual so much as simply being around other anglers who released all their trout without a second thought. In other words, C&R began to seem cool, and catch-and-kill extremely uncool. But the actual spirit of C&R did settle upon me, eventually. I began to understand that many fisheries would collapse if everyone kept even a small number of fish, and I saw how well C&R worked on many of the streams where I was spending a great deal of time. Big fish for everyone, and lots of them, too; this had to be the way to go.

And when I began to see fish I had recently released feeding and seemingly content, I stopped feeling guilty about "playing with my food" and began to feel virtuous, instead. After all, through our activism in conservation, my fellow anglers and I were protecting these fish from far greater dangers than those of a fly with a barbless hook--and, as for the hatchery-reared fish, they wouldn't even be alive if it weren't for us. All we asked from any of them was a little of their time, from time to time…

Thus did I complete my journey to catch-and-release enlightenment. But that's not the end of the story. My real message here is that it's important for us to remember that catch-and-release is good not because the life of each individual fish is precious, but because the practice has helped us to preserve many thousands of vulnerable fisheries across the country and around the world. It's a management tool, in other words, and not a religion. So, when an angler does something like, say, toss an illegally introduced, cutthroat-trout-eating lake trout back into Yellowstone Lake because he "just can't bear to kill a fish," he's not being virtuous, he's being dumb.

In fact, we've got a story on Yellowstone lakers in this issue--along with some great recipes for cooking them. I hope you'll use one of them if you catch a Yellowstone lake trout in the near future.

We've also got a red-blooded article by Ted Williams on angling for juvenile bluefin tuna off the New England coast--and making sushi out of a few of them. Ted says it well when he writes, "You don't kill one of these highly advanced wanderers of our planet casually, but you don't need to don ashes and sackcloth if you do. These are the babies; and, even before predation by humans, very few make it to spawning age."

We are still part of the food chain. Bon apetite.