Selective Harvest

There is so much debate lately over harvesting fish. It’s not clear what side of the argument is more prominent, catch and keep or catch and release. The debate seems to have no grey area either. You either keep fish or you practice catch and release and each side is hating on the other. There is a happy medium that rarely gets discussed in these often heated arguments. My father taught me conservation; not total catch and release but selective harvest. Keep only what you intend to eat, nothing more and chose the fish you keep wisely. Personally my lazy nature sees me let most of my fish swim to see another day. I don’t feel like cleaning or cooking them so back they go. Ultimately we want to conserve the resources we have and that should be our goal as anglers. Does that mean we have to let everything go? No, but it does mean that maybe some of us should be a little more selective in what we do take home.

The disappearance of Great Lakes Atlantic Salmon is a prime example of why we shouldn’t be gluttons. I understand it was a different time back then and there are other factors we could also attribute to the loss, but it’s a perfect example of how quickly we can decimate a population. By the time we realise there’s a problem it’s too late to fix it.

On the other hand it’s almost laughable how the ones who only practice catch and release seem to have developed a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Like they’re doing the world a favour by letting the fish they catch live. Guess what, they don’t all live. For some the over exertion is too much, no matter how careful you are with them. So then I have to ask, if one out of every ten fish released dies, what is the difference between letting that one fish go and keeping it for the table?

There are times when catching, filleting and cooking fish is all part of the fishing experience. An annual walleye trip I take is one of these times. A tradition for more years than I can really  remember, the weekend always ends with a Sunday fish fry that results in the consumption of multiple pounds of bacon and fresh filets, along with anything else that wasn’t consumed the previous couple of days.

We stand around, more often than not in the rain, eating the fresh fillets directly out of the pans they were frying in and washing them down with a cold beer, talking about the action, or lack thereof, of the past couple of day and nights. The discussion often strays to past years and how the fishing has changed, for better or worse, and how it will continue to change. As we eat we reminisce and share old stories, stories we’ve all heard over and over again yet never seem to lose their luster. We listen intently as if it were the first time the tale was told, all the while reaping the benefits of our time on the water with a delicious feast.

There are also times when watching a fish swim away gives a sense of pride and accomplishment. Two years ago I hooked into one of the biggest steelhead I had ever seen. The battle with the fish seemed longer than it actually was and I have to admit that I was more than a little shocked when the fish finally submitted and came to me. It was a beast of a fish but the respect I had for the creature is what kept me from doing any harm to it. There was no unnecessary handling, no hero shots, as a matter of fact there weren’t even any witnesses. The brief moment I had with the fish before she bolted back to her depths was all I needed.

Selective harvest is about conservation while maintaining the complete fishing experience. It’s a happy medium that benefits both fish and fisherman. Whether it’s a simple shore lunch to break up a long day on the water, or nothing more than a chance to see the fish up close, if it enhances time on the water, then that’s what it’s really all about.

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