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Catching And Releasing: Preserving Trout

Not all fly fishermen participate in the sport to eat what they catch. In fact, most enjoy mastering line casting, fly positioning and playing the trout more than actually consuming their catch. Plus, trout inventories can often diminish quickly if a certain area attracts a large number of anglers who take their trout with them. Because of these factors, many anglers practice a catch and release routine. Once they've played and landed a trout, they'll release the trout back into the waters. Below, we'll describe the basic technique used for releasing along with the pros and cons of the catch and release practice.

Catch And Release Basics

Catching and releasing trout is usually performed as quickly as possible with minimal playing and handling time. Excessive playing can damage a trout's throat and gills. Plus, the skin of a trout is covered with a substance that protects it from disease and infections. Our dry hands (and even nets) can wipe this substance from the skin, exposing the trout to harm.

Anglers practicing catch and release use barbless hooks to limit damage to the trout as well as to lessen the time required to unhook and release the trout. This is important to the wellbeing of the trout. If you're going to handle the trout, avoid doing so with dry hands or surfaces. Instead, try to handle the trout quickly with wet hands so that you don't rub off its protective coating.

Pros Of Catching and Releasing

Fly fishermen who practice releasing claim that doing so helps to preserve trout inventories. By releasing their prey, they're not diluting the number of trout from that source. Second, anglers often feel that unless they're planning to actually eat the trout, refusing to release it is basically killing the trout for one's ego and recreation. They argue that releasing is a way of showing respect for nature. Plus, they say that trout don't feel pain from the hook. The types of insects upon which they feed often have bodies that are similar to the barbless hooks used for catching and releasing.

Cons Of Catching and Releasing

Opponents of catching and releasing look at the practice very differently. They claim that the trout do indeed feel pain and are tortured for the pleasure of the anglers. They also argue that many of the trout that are released end up dying early because of the wounds they sustained while being played. They claim that the trout undergo extreme stress by being hooked, played and released. While opponents agree that catching and eating a trout is respectable, they feel that fly fishing for any other purpose is inherently disrespectful of nature.

Conservation Vs. Cruelty

The debate rages on. Evidence that trout feel pain is inconclusive at best. While some trout have perished because of the damage done to their skin, throat, or gills through catching and releasing, it's probable that such wounds were delivered by inexperienced or inconsiderate anglers. Thus, such damage should not reflect poorly upon the entire fly fishing community.

While activists continue to protest the practice of catching and releasing, it's worth noting that several conservation groups (including the World Wildlife Foundation) consider the practice necessary. Without anglers proactively releasing the trout, it's likely that trout inventories would diminish quickly. In the end, the debate about whether releasing trout is encouraging conservation or cruelty is largely a personal matter.