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We drag ‘em around by the lip

Whether catch and release or table fare

Striped marlin can fight so hard that they cannot always be successfully released.
Striped marlin can fight so hard that they cannot always be successfully released.

Dock Totals 10/24 – 10/30: 1,599 anglers aboard 85 trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 88 bluefin tuna (up to 310 pounds), 30 bocaccio, 91 bonito, 288 calico bass (187 released), 19 dorado, 8 lingcod, 16 lobster (8 released), 8 rock crab, 2,429 rockfish, 19 sand bass, 216 sculpin, 114 sheephead, 169 skipjack tuna, 477 whitefish, 237yellowfin tuna, and 2,823 yellowtail.

Saltwater: I was watching a show on TV and a line from a character got me thinking about the survival rate of fish that have been caught and released. In the scene, Billy Bob Thornton as Billy McBride in episode three of Goliath, was speaking to a commercial fisherman. He said, “Y’know, I like to fish myself. I catch and release, though. You ever do that? Catch and release? Drag the little bastard around by the lip ‘til he gets all gassed up with lactic acid, then you take the hook out an’ look him in the eye and say ‘I was just fuckin’ with ya buddy’?”

I have always felt that most species of fish are relatively hardy, and if handled correctly and not gut-hooked or gill-hooked, most would recover after being caught and released. There are caveats to that train of thought, though. Saltwater species are generally tougher than freshwater species. Trout, for instance, are not very hardy at all. Most lakes that feature trout fishing do not permit their release. As it is, for those fishing with bait or lures, the mortality rate is about 40% for trout. That number is much lower, less than 5% for those caught on flies. One reason is the type of hooks used; baitholder hooks and treble hooks used for bait fishing and treble hooks on most trout lures can cause a lot of damage even if the fish is lip-hooked. The hooks usually used when fly fishing are generally smaller and often barbless.

This past July, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife advised that in those places where trout can be released, anglers should not prolong the fight as a long battle will greatly reduce the survival rate. It’s not a rule, just a suggestion. A suggestion that goes against the grain of anglers in general. We anglers tend to rate the fish we catch on their fighting ability. The smaller the species, the more their fighting ability seems to matter. I have heard these comparisons, or something similar, often; ‘If bluegill were the size of tuna, they’d kick your butt’; ‘pound for pound, smallmouth bass are twice as powerful as largemouth bass’; and, to the freshwater angler who hooks a yellowtail for the first time, ‘you are now going to see how hard a real fish fights’.

Maybe it is human nature to hold in higher esteem that which fights hardest against stacked odds. In fiction, a protagonist that readily surrenders wouldn’t make much of a story. This idea is poignantly portrayed in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago and the giant marlin are both fighting for survival. Only one prevails, the old man, yet the marlin is his savior. As the old, depressed fisherman headed out further than any other dared, he was on a quest to reclaim his stature as a provider after a long dry spell that made him the butt of jokes in his community. When he returned, the ruined carcass of the marlin in tow, he had reclaimed his self-esteem and stature in the community.

Though saltwater species are generally tougher than fish that swim in lakes, streams, and rivers, some are tough to catch and release with any chance of survival. Yellowtail fight very hard but can be successfully released after a long battle. I know people that catch and release them often, but the size of the fish and proximity to the water matters. A 30-pound fish is not easily raised to the deck of a sportboat several feet above the water without a gaff. From a small boat or kayak where the angler can touch water, they can be handled more easily and released. That said, yellowtail flesh is popular table fare, and in general they are rarely released.

In the vein of conservation, yellowtail is not listed as endangered or even threatened. We post pictures of our yellowtail catches and comments roll in like ‘nice catch!’ and ‘that’s gonna make some good Hamachi!’ but try and post a picture on social media of a striped marlin hanging at the scale and about 50% of the comments from other anglers are meant to shame the angler for killing it. Though striped marlin is listed as near-threatened, they are commercially fished for food in many countries. Smoked marlin, poke, and even marlin tacos are popular dishes south of the border and across the Pacific. One problem with releasing marlin is that they fight so hard that a moderate percentage of those hooked and fought ‘roll’ and cannot be revived. In most cases, this common excuse given by an angler shamed for killing a marlin is true.

There is one species of fish consistently reported as released by sportfishing operations in Southern California: Calico Bass. Calico bass are slow-growing endemic species and as they are heavily targeted in and near kelp beds, their population is dependent on regulations limiting size and number kept. That said, they are a very hardy species and are usually released successfully. Though they are good eating with flaky white meat, they have achieved a status among anglers not unlike marlin. Keeping a large female calico, while legal, can draw the ire of other anglers. ‘Don’t kill the breeders’ is a popular mantra in the near-shore angling community. Like largemouth bass in freshwater, many calico bass tournaments are catch and release only, and in lieu of livewells used in largemouth competitions, require a photo of a fish on a sanctioned measuring device.

With rules in place and influence among anglers, we still go out and seek that battle whether for food or sport. Catch and release fishing, if done properly, can help ensure a strong fishery for future generations. I have fished for food, pay, and recreation throughout my life. I respect my prey, and I do my best to release fish with care that I do not keep. I often wonder, though, if it is just human instinct; if we, like Hemingway’s Santiago, need to recapture our former glory or establish our worth by dragging a frantic fish around by the lip. At 59, I no longer target marlin and I release more fish than I keep. Maybe sensitivity to life gets stronger as we approach our own mortality, but, for me, that doubt usually fades by the first bite of a fresh fish taco.

Fish Plants: None scheduled

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Striped marlin can fight so hard that they cannot always be successfully released.
Striped marlin can fight so hard that they cannot always be successfully released.

Dock Totals 10/24 – 10/30: 1,599 anglers aboard 85 trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 88 bluefin tuna (up to 310 pounds), 30 bocaccio, 91 bonito, 288 calico bass (187 released), 19 dorado, 8 lingcod, 16 lobster (8 released), 8 rock crab, 2,429 rockfish, 19 sand bass, 216 sculpin, 114 sheephead, 169 skipjack tuna, 477 whitefish, 237yellowfin tuna, and 2,823 yellowtail.

Saltwater: I was watching a show on TV and a line from a character got me thinking about the survival rate of fish that have been caught and released. In the scene, Billy Bob Thornton as Billy McBride in episode three of Goliath, was speaking to a commercial fisherman. He said, “Y’know, I like to fish myself. I catch and release, though. You ever do that? Catch and release? Drag the little bastard around by the lip ‘til he gets all gassed up with lactic acid, then you take the hook out an’ look him in the eye and say ‘I was just fuckin’ with ya buddy’?”

I have always felt that most species of fish are relatively hardy, and if handled correctly and not gut-hooked or gill-hooked, most would recover after being caught and released. There are caveats to that train of thought, though. Saltwater species are generally tougher than freshwater species. Trout, for instance, are not very hardy at all. Most lakes that feature trout fishing do not permit their release. As it is, for those fishing with bait or lures, the mortality rate is about 40% for trout. That number is much lower, less than 5% for those caught on flies. One reason is the type of hooks used; baitholder hooks and treble hooks used for bait fishing and treble hooks on most trout lures can cause a lot of damage even if the fish is lip-hooked. The hooks usually used when fly fishing are generally smaller and often barbless.

This past July, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife advised that in those places where trout can be released, anglers should not prolong the fight as a long battle will greatly reduce the survival rate. It’s not a rule, just a suggestion. A suggestion that goes against the grain of anglers in general. We anglers tend to rate the fish we catch on their fighting ability. The smaller the species, the more their fighting ability seems to matter. I have heard these comparisons, or something similar, often; ‘If bluegill were the size of tuna, they’d kick your butt’; ‘pound for pound, smallmouth bass are twice as powerful as largemouth bass’; and, to the freshwater angler who hooks a yellowtail for the first time, ‘you are now going to see how hard a real fish fights’.

Maybe it is human nature to hold in higher esteem that which fights hardest against stacked odds. In fiction, a protagonist that readily surrenders wouldn’t make much of a story. This idea is poignantly portrayed in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago and the giant marlin are both fighting for survival. Only one prevails, the old man, yet the marlin is his savior. As the old, depressed fisherman headed out further than any other dared, he was on a quest to reclaim his stature as a provider after a long dry spell that made him the butt of jokes in his community. When he returned, the ruined carcass of the marlin in tow, he had reclaimed his self-esteem and stature in the community.

Though saltwater species are generally tougher than fish that swim in lakes, streams, and rivers, some are tough to catch and release with any chance of survival. Yellowtail fight very hard but can be successfully released after a long battle. I know people that catch and release them often, but the size of the fish and proximity to the water matters. A 30-pound fish is not easily raised to the deck of a sportboat several feet above the water without a gaff. From a small boat or kayak where the angler can touch water, they can be handled more easily and released. That said, yellowtail flesh is popular table fare, and in general they are rarely released.

In the vein of conservation, yellowtail is not listed as endangered or even threatened. We post pictures of our yellowtail catches and comments roll in like ‘nice catch!’ and ‘that’s gonna make some good Hamachi!’ but try and post a picture on social media of a striped marlin hanging at the scale and about 50% of the comments from other anglers are meant to shame the angler for killing it. Though striped marlin is listed as near-threatened, they are commercially fished for food in many countries. Smoked marlin, poke, and even marlin tacos are popular dishes south of the border and across the Pacific. One problem with releasing marlin is that they fight so hard that a moderate percentage of those hooked and fought ‘roll’ and cannot be revived. In most cases, this common excuse given by an angler shamed for killing a marlin is true.

There is one species of fish consistently reported as released by sportfishing operations in Southern California: Calico Bass. Calico bass are slow-growing endemic species and as they are heavily targeted in and near kelp beds, their population is dependent on regulations limiting size and number kept. That said, they are a very hardy species and are usually released successfully. Though they are good eating with flaky white meat, they have achieved a status among anglers not unlike marlin. Keeping a large female calico, while legal, can draw the ire of other anglers. ‘Don’t kill the breeders’ is a popular mantra in the near-shore angling community. Like largemouth bass in freshwater, many calico bass tournaments are catch and release only, and in lieu of livewells used in largemouth competitions, require a photo of a fish on a sanctioned measuring device.

With rules in place and influence among anglers, we still go out and seek that battle whether for food or sport. Catch and release fishing, if done properly, can help ensure a strong fishery for future generations. I have fished for food, pay, and recreation throughout my life. I respect my prey, and I do my best to release fish with care that I do not keep. I often wonder, though, if it is just human instinct; if we, like Hemingway’s Santiago, need to recapture our former glory or establish our worth by dragging a frantic fish around by the lip. At 59, I no longer target marlin and I release more fish than I keep. Maybe sensitivity to life gets stronger as we approach our own mortality, but, for me, that doubt usually fades by the first bite of a fresh fish taco.

Fish Plants: None scheduled

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Comments
1

I never go fishing. But this interesting article on catch-and-release raised the bar on fishing reports. Who knew there are ethical concerns while fishing?

Nov. 1, 2021

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