Each year that passes I find my love for fishing remains strong. Yet, it has changed from my youth. Gone are the days of one or two rods and reels, items either passed down or scrounged from a garage sale. I remember heading out with rod, reel, one two Prince Albert cans. One can was empty and served to hold any bait I could scare up along the way to my fishing spot. The second held my terminal tackle, a few hooks and split shot.
In those days, my objective was to catch, anything would do, size and species didn’t much matter. If it was considered edible, it often got kill and drug home. The killing part quickly changed by the time I was a teen, as fish was rarely on the menu at our household. It was the desire to release that ultimately led me to fishing primarily flies and lures. I didn’t need someone to point out what experience did. If a fish would survive I was taught to kill and use it. Giving it away was an acceptable use. Lures and flies resulted in fewer killed fish.
During those early years, through my thirties, lots of fish came to net, but rare “trophy” class fish. Fish in the upper twenty percentile, master angler fish if you will. And if they would have, there’s a fair chance they would have died, as I didn’t really see them as much more than a challenge to catch.
Today my attitudes have changed and there’s a lot of reasons for that. A conversation the other night I had with a couple of my fellow anglers is illustrative of how much I’ve changed. The question posed was, “If you caught what you suspected was a world record fish, would you kill it in order to verify the record as required by most agencies.” My answer was simply, “NO.”
Why? In my book “trophy” fish are the best the species has to offer. They’re rare individuals that most anglers only dream of catching. I’ve had the good fortune to catch more than my share of master angler fish over the years, due to a combination of fishing skill and fishing waters where trophies are likely to exist. I’ve intentionally, and unintentionally, killed a few trophy fish in the past.
Today, I find I have zero desire to take a trophy fish. The memory of hooking and landing, coupled with the knowledge, as the fish swims away, that another angler might also enjoy that the experience of that fish is sufficient reward for me. No need to be greedy and have the fish solely to myself.
Aside from sharing trophy fish with others, l believe leaving trophies has other benefits, including potentially passing those genetics on to future generations. Meaning future anglers may have opportunities to catch trophy fish. And I sometime wonder if the “fates” don’t approve and consequently smile upon your future fishing endeavors.
This desire to see trophies released is now so engrained, every time I see a picture of a trophy I either smile, knowing the angler experienced great joy in catching and releasing that fish. Those anglers I congratulate. Or I want to scream, “Dead fish!” I don’t, but I want to. Granted they had the legal right to kill, so I don’t say anything. I just hope that at some point, they too, will come to realize that by exercising their “right” not to kill, they and others have a chance to also enjoy landing a trophy.