The dark side of catch and release angling practices

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Catch and releasing fish for some is a reason anglers justify staying on a hot bite. Grab a limit, then enjoy catching additional fish to be released. It is all good right, after all the fish will make it? Clients that hire guides want to maximize time on the water, fish caught to dollars and cents paid, catch and release makes sense to keep customers fishing and happy. Clients might frown on catching a limit of walleyes quickly then head in. To accommodate clients a guide stays out for the full duration of the hire, releasing fish caught.

In theory, catch and releasing fish is always a good idea. Biologists encourage catch and release practices. Anglers are forced to release fish on some lakes with protective slots. An example a Lake X with a walleye slot where walleyes can be kept from 15 to 18 inches with a four walleye limit. All fish below 15 inches and above 18 inches must be released. Anglers are allowed to keep walleyes in the 15- and 18-inch range. During the course of a fishing outing, a full range of fish are caught. Out of the slot fish released, others inside the slot, are kept. At times, only a few fish out of the slot need to be released to achieve a limit. Other times, catching more numbers of larger (out of the slot fish) which must be released.

There's a dark side of catch and release. Delayed hooking mortality data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on walleyes shows the mortality curve rises dramatically due to water temperatures of 70 degrees and higher, and to fish caught out of depths 30 degree water temperatures, and with it the risk for higher delayed mortality of released fish. This potentially lasts through the first week of September. Be mindful a fish that swims away or does not surface immediately is not a fish that survives. Mortality occurs days after being caught.

The best ethical practice to follow in July, August until the first week of September. Strive to keep the number of caught and released fish to a minimum. Land the fish as quickly as you can. In a prolonged fight, lactic acid will build up and releasing the fish becomes more difficult. Unhook the fish in the net while in the water, if the situation allows. Avoid catching and landing fish out of deeper water unless it is desired to keep them. Fish put into a live well for a period of time then later released are certain to become victims to delayed mortality. Fish brought into the boat for pictures should be released as quickly as possible to insure better chance of survival. Landed fish should not be allowed to bounce around on the floor or left out of the water for any extended period of time. Pack ice for the fish caught and to be kept; fish in a live well will not live long in warm water. Anglers catching a limit of walleyes and wanting to stay on the water longer should seek other species of fish.

Catch and release practices, always good to follow in theory but the dark side is fish can be lost due to delayed mortality.