It's time to catch up on proper catch and release


April 25, 1993|By LONNY WEAVER

Saturday marks the beginning of this year's spring striped bass trophy season. From then to May 31, bay anglers will be allowed to keep one 36-inch or larger rockfish.

Unfortunately, a thousand fish under 36 inches probably will be caught for every one over the 3-foot minimum.

A few years back, after a column reporting on a great fall rockfishing trip with captain Alan Faulkner, a reader took me to task for writing that we caught and released 28 stripers.

"It doesn't do much good," the reader wrote, "to put legal fish through the stress [of catching them], then throw them back. . . . For the good of the fish, once your limit is caught, stop. Don't put our future with the rock in jeopardy just to see how many you can catch and throw back."

After receiving the letter, I contacted sources at the Department of Natural Resources, University of Maryland and the National Marine Fisheries Service, plus a few local authorities and anglers I respect.

Everyone agreed that catching and releasing striped bass, or for that matter, any saltwater or freshwater fish, represents no harm to the fish, provided the release is done properly.

Each year the spring trophy season raises concerns for the well-being of all the striped bass caught but required to be released. I must say that in a great many instances, those concerns probably are well-founded.

Without doubt, today's anglers are the best ever to put a line into water. Tackle is better, we have electronic aids that were unheard of 20 years ago, techniques are better, etc.

The only fly is that there are so many of us going after limited numbers of fish. This makes the safe releasing of fish very important.

The key to proper catch and release is to get the fish out of the water (if necessary), into the boat (if necessary) and back into the water quickly and gently. Never throw the fish back, but rather let it sort of slide out of your hands and slip beneath the water's surface.

A dehooker should be a standard item on all fishing boats. This simple device allows you to remove the hook without touching the fish. When fishing for toothy fish, such as bluefish in the bay or freshwater pike or musky, carry a degorger, which allows you to reach deeper into those menacing mouths to remove deeply bedded hooks.

At those times when I am not able to remove a bucktail or other similar type of lure, the commonly recommended practice involves simply holding the fish on its back, or covering its eyes, which immediately calms the fish and allows for quick and simple hook removal. Most bass anglers get the same results by holding a hooked large or smallmouth by the lower jaw.

When using live bait (a no-no during this May rockfish season) or cut bait in a chum line, use bronze hooks. Such hooks, if swallowed by the fish too deeply to safely remove, are simply cut off at the line. Numerous studies report that this does not harm the fish and the hook quickly rusts out.

Many trout anglers use barbless hooks, which in addition to being easy to remove, aid in hooking the fish. Most large fishhooks do have barbs, but simply bend the bark down with pliers and your hook is now barbless.

Traditional cord nets injure fish by their abrasiveness. They rub off the important slime from the surface of the fish and also can injure the eyes. Hook a fish with a lure wearing treble hooks and you have a first-class mess getting that fish and lure out of a cord net.

A rubber net, on the other hand, is smooth and easy on the fish and generally will not tie up a treble hook. Most tackle or boating equipment stores throughout Anne Arundel County should have them in stock.

Lastly, if you must handle a fish for any extended period of time, do so wearing rubber gloves, wet cotton gloves or a wet towel.

Bay fishing forecast

Thanks to the unusual run of cool temperatures we've had these past weeks, the first week or two of the trophy striped bass season could be memorable.

Good numbers of rock are still in the tributaries, good news for mid-bay anglers.

White perch fishing has been good on the Corsica, the Choptank near Red Bridges and especially around the Choptank Fishing Pier.

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