Don’t feel guilty about hook and cook fishing


Mar 11, 2001
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Don’t feel guilty about hook and cook fishing



Writing about the trout season opener in California recently, an outdoor columnist for another newspaper made the statement in his article, “When catching trout, practice ‘catch and release’ fishing.” There was no further explanation, simply, if you catch any trout, throw them back. I often wonder how other anglers react to such an all-encompassing statement.

I came across this all-encompassing, no exceptions to the rule attitude many times in my career in wildlife management. To some, (and I believe most to be fly anglers) killing a trout is sinful. And if we use weekend TV angling shows as our guide, it would appear that killing a largemouth bass, tarpon, billfish … is at least no better, probably worse.

Much has been written about the art — as it is often called — of catch-and-release fishing, both pro and con. A search on the Web found no less than 317,000 listings, no doubt covering every viewpoint known to man. Reading even a few we quickly discover that anglers, biologists, fish managers, researchers — and even outdoor writers — all have differing views.

So, why all the controversy? It would be impossible to cover the many issues associated with C&R fishing in this forum, but based on what I have read and learned over the years, it seems that greed, compassion, species conservation (possibly misguided), state laws, sports-person elitism and even distaste for trout flesh are all reasons proponents push C&R so heavily.

First greed. Many who push for total C&R simply want more fish for themselves. If someone kills a fish to take home for dinner, that’s one less that may be available for the strict C&R advocate. Some fishing guides (not all) strongly encourage, through peer pressure, to return all fish to the water. Some even go as far as not allowing their patrons to kill any fish and clearly make that point in their pamphlets and Web sites. If you make your living off anglers experiencing a successful day on the water, it is not too difficult to figure out why they want all fish returned.

Compassion also plays a part in C&R fishing and I am a prime example of a compassionate angler. On occasion I get lucky and catch a large mackinaw trout while fishing at Lake Tahoe. On a recent trip I hooked and got to the boat a 17.5-pound mackinaw that was probably at least 20 years old. I quickly weighed it in the net and let it go. I just could not kill a fish that had survived so many years. However, a few smaller macks that I catch each year are not as fortunate.

Then there’s misguided species conservation, like someone urging all anglers to practice C&R when fishing for trout. There is no doubt that in a few instances — very few — requiring anglers to release certain species for conservation purposes is warranted, possibly striped bass in the east or steelhead trout in some western rivers. But in Nevada, releasing trout in an effort to conserve the species is many things, but not necessary.

Most trout in Nevada waters are put there by the Division of Wildlife, and those who buy licenses have paid them to do it. And don’t be concerned, if there is a problem with a particular species, regulations can be enacted to provide partial protection — reduced limits — or total protection through the closing of a particular water. I trust no one believes the slot limit at Pyramid Lake is in place to protect the Lahontan cutthroat trout.

For the most part, I believe fish managers in Nevada have a real good attitude toward the establishment of regulations for waters where fish cannot be kept. In fact, I could only find one such water in the Nevada fishing regulations pamphlets.

Some state wildlife agencies, California’s for one, have been pressured into setting aside many waters where the keeping of fish is illegal for no better reason than greed. State agencies should be doing everything they can to encourage — not discourage — people to get into fishing. Many feel mandatory C&R discourages, not encourages, new participants. I agree.

There is also sports-person elitism, which works by exerting peer pressure on those of us who would kill a fish in hopes of making us feel guilty for even thinking about keeping a fish to eat. Most of this comes to us via the TV fishing shows, but negative comments from C&R angler-elitists to other anglers, who are often referred to as “worm-dunkers” or other derogative names, do occur.

Covering the recreational activities of Presidents Bush — senior and junior — including a fishing trip June 15 off Kennebunkport, Maine, a CBS newscaster let us all know that the two had caught fish, but quickly added that they were “playing” (her actual word) C&R. I got the impression that we were supposed to feel better about their activity since no fish were being killed.

If you are one who does not like the taste of trout, by all means return the fish. However, if you have a barbecue, keep the next trout you catch and contact me at the email address below, and I will send you a recipe that may change your mind.

Unless required by law, C&R is a personal choice. Don’t feel bad about keeping a fish, or even a limit of fish if you are going to eat them or share them with someone else that you know will eat them. However, if you are not going to utilize a fish that you catch, handle it carefully and quickly return it to the water. And the best way to handle and release your catch is the subject of next week’s column.

Dave Rice retired in 2001 after 30 years with the Nevada Division of Wildlife, 25 years as chief conservation officer. He can be contacted at

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