Barbs and Backlashes

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock by whitetips
June 8, 2010, 4:18 pm
Filed under: Fishing | Tags:

A few thoughts have been running through my mind the past few days; I think I have finally put them together . . .

I watched “Expedition Great White” on the National Geographic Channel over the weekend,  WOW!  In case you did not see it, there is a team of anglers, fisheries/marine biologists and others capturing great white sharks so they can be fitted with satellite transmitters for research, for tracking the movements of those great predators.  They capture the sharks on hook and line using circle hooks as big as your arm, and the sharks break some of the hooks!!!!  The hooks are tied on ropes with a chain leader and tuna heads or whole tuna are used for bait (cut bait works, I’m telling ya!).  When they hook a shark they are played by boat, the rope is held by anglers in the boat, no rods or reels are used, and they use a series of large floats on the line to aid in keeping the shark near the surface and to help tire it (“I never saw one take down two barrels”).  Once the sharks are played, and it takes them as long as an hour for the biggest sharks, they are towed next to a ship that has a platform in the water that can be lifted once the shark is over the platform.  When the shark is landed they irrigate its gills with a hose to keep water running over the gills as they collect data, take blood samples and attach the satellite transmitter to the dorsal fin.  Now these guys are working with live, great white sharks up to 20 feet long, I am guessing those sharks weighed over 1,000 pounds, maybe up to 2,000 pounds, and they are able to do all their data collection and release the fish in less than 20 minutes!

Over the weekend I also picked up an issue of Muskie magazine I had laying around the house (it was the February 2010 issue).  In there was an article that included a time-line and photos of an angler landing and releasing a 44-inch muskie while fishing alone in a boat.  From the time that muskie was put in the net until it was released was just a little less than 8 minutes.  The muskie never left the water during that time except for 52 seconds while the fish was lifted, cradled in a horizontal position, and pictures taken by an angler in another boat.

Why I am telling you this?  Why have these things been floating around in my head since last week?  Well, let me tell you of something I observed while on one of our Nebraska waters last week.  I watched a couple of anglers handle a fish they had caught.  It was a fish that had to be released because of regulations on that body of water.  I watched them handle the fish as I sat in my pickup and timed them with the clock on my dashboard.  From the time they landed the fish, until they finally had the hooks removed, pictures taken and everything else was almost 10 minutes, and the fish was out of the water that entire time, except for one little swish in the water before the picture-taking!  This fish was laid on a dry surface during hook removal, and was held vertically most of the time.  After the photo taking they decided they wanted to weigh the fish.  So, then the search was on to find the scales and of course the fish was hung, vertically, by the jaw for weighing.  Finally, after almost 10 minutes of being out of the water, the fish was placed back in the water where they swished it back and forth for almost 3 minutes because it did not (could not?) immediately swim away.

Now you know why I have had this floating around in my head since last week.  Yes, old Daryl is writing this “rant” to finally get it out of my head.  I wanted to scream.  Catch & release whether required by rule or done voluntarily ain’t gonna do our fisheries and fishing any good unless the fish are released with the best possible chance to survive.  I will readily admit that the only way to do no harm to the fish is to not even fish for them in the first place, but I ain’t doing that, and I will never be a proponent of that.  However, I will continue to crawl up on my soap-box to insist that we do our BEST to ensure that released fish are released in the best condition possible.  Fish are robust and hardy and can withstand quite a bit of handling and stress, especially in cool or cold water.  I am not going to tell you that weighing them or holding them vertically or laying them on a dry surface or even having them out of the water for 10 minutes is for sure going to kill them, but I am going to tell you that is NOT the BEST way to handle them.  There are a darned lot of fish that swim away once they are released that succumb to delayed mortality a few hours or a day or two later.  Yep, I know “it swam away”, but it is still ends up deader than a doornail.

I hate relating human feelings, emotions or experience to wild creatures.  I ain’t a fish and the fish ain’t me.  But, it has been said that a fish out of water is like having your head held under water, and the length of time you can hold your breath is comparable to length of time you should have a fish out of water.  I am not exactly buying that because fish gills function nothing like mammal lungs, but the principle is valid–a fish should not be out of the water any longer than necessary.

And speaking of a fish’s gills–they are made for extracting oxygen from the water as the water flows in the mouth, over the gills and out under the gill cover.  If you have a fish that cannot swim away as soon as it is placed back in the water, support it so it stays upright and simply let it “breath” or pump water over its gills on its own.  If you are fishing in a river or stream where you can point the fish into the current to aid in moving water in the right direction over the gills, go ahead and do that, but DO NOT swish the fish back and forth.  Swishing water over the gills from the back will do the fish little or no good, and at worse may harm delicate gill tissues.

What is the  fascination with a fish’s weight?  I suppose it comes from having all the records based on weight, but why not just measure the fish?  With a length you can come up with a very good estimate of how much the fish weighed.  Weighing a fish is hard on it, especially if they are hung vertically by the jaw or even worse yet by the gill cover.  If a fish has to be weighed the BEST way to do it would be to weigh the entire net with the fish in the net or place the fish in some type of cradle, sack or container where it can be supported in a horizontal position for a quick weighing.  Oh, and if you are going to weigh the fish, make sure you know where all the tools are that you need and make sure that you can obtain and use them as quickly as possible.  The same goes for picture-taking; know where the camera is at, know that it is ready, and know how to use it (make sure your partner does too).

I suppose you get tired of hearing me sermonize on this subject, but I know it can make a huge difference in the quality of our fisheries.  Big fish are hard to catch not because they are so smart but because they are so rare.  If they die after being caught & released there will be less of them no matter our good intentions.  I am not telling where I observed the atrocious fish handling last week because I do not want to embarrass anyone, and I want everyone to stop and think about their fish handling.  Was it you?  I have some more thoughts on fish handling for catch & release here,

Land ’em as quickly as possible, keep ’em in the water as much as possible, handle ’em as little as possible, and get ’em back in the water as soon as possible!

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thanks for publishing this info. I completely agree with your comments and the need to handle fish that are to be released in a way that gives them the best possible chance of survival. I hope all who practice catch and release will learn to follow your advice.

Comment by John Ramsell

Thank you for this. All sharks caught by sport fishermen should be returned alive to the ocean. Sharks are in real serious trouble right now and need all the help they can get. To learn more, view: Sharks.

Comment by Andrew Keet

[…] fish handling, see these posts, , ), get a firm hold on them, support them in a horizontal position with both hands, and then roll […]

Pingback by Fins Up « Barbs and Backlashes

[…] possible chance of survival, , .  With length limits you may have to measure a fish before it is released and even when I know I […]

Pingback by To measure is to know–Lord Kelvin « Barbs and Backlashes

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