We live on a shrinking planet. More people want to be on the water, which ultimately ends up with more people abusing our natural resources, by reducing the number of fish that we have to fish for and destroying the places they call home. But, we as paddle anglers are capable of making some changes in the way we approach the sport that can certainly make a difference both right now, and further on down the road.
As I started making the outline for this article I ran out of room on my little note pad. It was all too clear - there is a LOT we can do to make things better for our finned friends. In an attempt to convey as much information as possible, I'm not going to elaborate much on each item. You're smart people - do a little research on your own. I'm also making the assumption that if you've read this much of the article that you're truly interested in the topic and are willing to help make a positive change in the areas where you fish, and also in the way you fish. Thank you.
Protecting our resource (the fish) is something that you can be involved in whether you're on the water, at home, or even at your computer at work. I'll start with a few things you can do before you get on the water.
We all carry our cell phones with us on the water. So take a few minutes, look up the numbers for your local police department, fish and wildlife organization, etc., and plug them in to your phone. Do it now - then come back and finish this article - I'll wait. This way, should you be out on the water and actually need to contact someone to report a violation, the number will be there. Waiting until you get home to make the call may help populate a database, but does little to resolve the problem.If you fish with artificial lures, crimp the barbs down on the hooks. This is less damaging to the fish and makes for a much easier release.
If you use live bait, use some form of circle hook instead of the typical "J" hook. These don't require a dramatic hookset, just reel down tight. Circle hooks ensure fewer gut hooked fish, this decreasing fatalities.Beef up your gear to ensure a short fight. Using ultra-light gear on large fish isn't sporting - it's stupid. A long battle wears the fish down to the point of exhaustion, or beyond. Sure, you may release the fish, but you'll never know if it went belly up a few moments later, of fell to a predator because it was too spent to escape.Buy your gear locally. Don't buy it online or at a mega store. Support the mom and pop shops in your area. The big stores won't suffer from missing a few sales - they'll be just fine. But the local shops will certainly appreciate the business, and these are the folks that can special order items for you, and provide information on local fisheries. You won't find that degree of service at a Super Sports Shop.This next item will be the hardest for some of you to get your arms around - it is by far the most important notion to take from this article. Say it with me … "I practice Catch and Release only". We're taught early on that a full stringer is the ONLY evidence of a good day on the water. Today, that simply isn't the case. So, before you head to the water, get it straight in your head that a picture or a story is better than a fillet. What better way to protect our resource than to not destroy it with our sport. You need to remember that for every person that obeys the honor system of keeping just the fish that are legal and in just the legal quantities, there is a bozo out there that is stocking their freezer with whatever they can catch. Also, if you simply must have that fish dinner after a day on the water, just stop by your local seafood market and pick up some fillets. See, those fish are already DEAD, nothing you can do about that. Plus, they're ready to cook, no mess.
Now that you've got yourself in the mindset to "preserve" the resource and not "remove" it, take that to the water with you.
Once you catch a fish and bring it along beside the boat, do your best not to touch as you remove the hook. That slime coat is its' coat of armor - do all you can not to damage it.If you must touch the fish, make sure your hands are wet first. If you must lift the fish with a wet hand under the belly and a wet hand grasping the lower jaw. If the fish is of the toothy variety, use a lip gripper. If a net must be used, make sure it's a cotton variety and not hard nylon. Never hold a fish vertically. This does more damage than is immediately apparent.Should you want to take pictures of your catch, make sure you have the camera handy before the hookset. Once the fish is in the boat is not the time to fumble around and get the camera ready. And, a couple quick pictures are plenty - you don't need to make a documentary.Spend as much time as necessary to revive an exhausted fish after being caught. There's much more to a fishes' survival than simply being able to move its tail as it gets away from you. It has to be strong enough to get some water moving over its' gills, and it also needs to be fit enough to elude predators. If you get a good splash in the face from a healthy tail, consider that a heartfelt "thank you".Pick up some trash while you're out there - every little bit helps. A kayak makes it easy to get debris from shorelines that boats can't get to. You may find a few lures buried back there too.If you do happen to gut hook a fish, cut the line as close to the hook as you can - do not try to pull it out. He hook will rust away in a short time, and the fish will have a much better chance of survival.
If you witness anyone breaking the law, taking fish illegally, or fishing in restricted areas, call the authorities then, not later. That's why having the phone number programmed is so important. Do not confront them yourself. They're probably well aware they're breaking the law, and they probably won't mind breaking a few more as they try to mow you down. The only way that authorities can intercept them and do their job is if they get good info - we can provide that.Feel free to share strategies and techniques, but please, keep your "honey holes" to yourself. You see, a "honey hole" is a thriving eco area, a place that humans haven't screwed up yet. It's a place where fish are breeding and surviving. Those fish are the ones that can help rebuild other areas as they migrate to feed and breed. The last thing you want to do is broadcast this and stop the cycle. So, share the picture, tell the story, but keep those bountiful locations to yourself.
This fishing thing is a lot of responsibility, isn't it ? We've only begun to scratch the surface. Once you're off the water you can still make some very positive impact. If you've ever watched the news and said "someone should do something", ever wonder who that "someone" is ? It's you. If you truly have a desire to protect this resource and take a stand on conservation and preservation, it will take several things. It will take your time, your money, your thought, and above all, it will take your participation. For me, here in west central Florida, there are countless organizations and programs that could benefit from any contribution I can spare. We're all busy, traveling at the speed of life. But if we don't act now in an intelligent collective manner, it won't be long before there's nothing left to protect.
In this article, I hope I informed you a little, and made you think a little. But more than anything, I hope I prompted you to DO a little - be part of the solution and not part of the problem. At the end of the day, these little things you do will give you more satisfaction that just catching a fish.
I'll close this article with one of my favorite quotes of all time … hopefully it will soon be one of yours.
"Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after."
- Henry David Thoreau
See you out on the water …
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