As the planning for a next New Zealand fishing trip began to take shape I remembered something lost somewhere in my messy fishing library. Browsing for a while gave its fruit. The book’s title is Stalking Trout, and it was published in 1985. On its first page a manuscript note by my hand says: June 2000.
I wasn’t specially interested in the subject as much as in the background: the authors are kiwis and the book is devoted to catching New Zealand trout. It actually made for a nice reading so it was over in just a couple of days. No fantastic discoveries to share here, though the abundance of paragraphs I, at the time, underlined in red shows that today’s no-brainers were illuminating findings sixteen years ago. Older but, at least, a little bit wiser.
The chapter on conservation caught my attention. For a book more than thirty years old -and from a country with plenty of healthy fisheries, still today- its call for C&R practices is particularly surprising… and saddening when compared to the level of consciousness (lack of it to be precise) I see around here.
As a guideline to the proper release of fish the chapter gives what time has stablished as the usual recommendations, with the exciting addition of a very NZ specific one: carry a landing net big enough!
In recent times an interesting social media campaign has focused on raising awareness of the fact that “releasing” and “releasing to survive” aren’t the same thing. And this sets a fundamental difference between the old advice and the new one: those kiwis didn’t imagine at the time that an angler provided with a camera should be reminded of the fact that fish can’t breath air. Obvious things aren’t that obvious, are they?
But in this regard of “releasing alive” there is a point that is missing in both old and new guidelines: sometimes (too many times, judging from what I personally see) the fish destined to be released is, in practical terms, dead before the angler touches it. That old “keep the rod tip up!” we heard so many times in those first fishing days, has the ability of killing as many fish as the neglecting angler-photographer.
Between pointing the rod directly to the fish, and putting the rod at 90 degrees of that position there is a good number of variables that must be used. In that way you vary the amount of force exerted on the fish, pulling lightly when necessary… or up to the tippet breaking strain limit when possible. The amount of force we actually exert on a fish and the force we feel in our wrist, are of very different magnitude. It is the nature of levers. Here is an enlightening experience I do during my classes and recommend to every angler:
Ask a friend to rig his rod with a line provided with a pretty thick tippet. Take the end of the tippet between index and thumb, and challege your friend to take the tippet off your fingers with his “rod tip up”. Warn him about rod breakage first, then enjoy the look of his face when he starts feeling worried of injuring his wrist while you happily sip your beer.