To kill a trout or not?

My purpose in writing this book was to try and help you
catch more fish - but not to kill more fish.

Despite New Zealand's well-deserved reputation as one of the finest trout fisheries in the world, many of our waters actually carry fewer fish per cubic metre than overseas fisheries. Our major point of difference is a relative abundance of water carrying big (certainly compared to many overseas fisheries), wild trout.

But, and it is a big ‘but’, New Zealand's trout waters are not immune from the havoc that we humans are foisting on the planet. Pollution, bank clearing, forestry, increased numbers of anglers, et al, are all diminishing the habitat that supports healthy populations of our trout. In order to preserve what we have left I urge you to limit your kill, not kill your limit. Any regulations about how many trout an angler can take should be regarded as a limit not a target!

Catching and releasing trout is one way we can
do our bit to preserve what we have left.

Handling Fish For Release

Handling fish for release is covered much more fully here.

Handling a trout carefully that you are going to release is absolutely critical if that fish is going to have the very best chances of survival. Hooking a fish and playing till you can land it, can exhaust the fish and build great stress levels. So if you decide to release the fish, please handle the fish carefully and use the handling techniques covered in the article linked above.

The Catch and Release Dilemma

What I am about to describe has happened to me too many times, and once is one too many.

It was a great day on the Tongariro River (central North Island, New Zealand) some years ago. On one pool I caught and released four fish in less than an hour. Then towards home time I landed a beautiful hen, fat and silvery. Just perfect for some guests we were expecting next evening for dinner.

I lifted the fish up the beach, and pulled out my priest to give it a whack on the noodle. An angler who had been fishing the same stretch of water with me yelled out, “You're not going to kill that are you?”

“Sure am, it's a lovely fish", I replied.

“Bloody meat hunter!” he yelled.

Meat hunter? This guy had watched me catch and release four fish, prior to giving this one a knock on the noggin. But my antagonist had not had enough - he stumped up the beach and started to give me a lecture about how all fish should be released. Any arguments I tried to make in my defence were met with a solid wall of dogma. The fact that my antagonist was a visitor to my country made it all the more galling. Finally I suggested, forcefully, that he should become interested in sex and travel, sooner rather than later.

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In an early chapter in this book, I cautioned new anglers against a few in the sphere of fly-fishing who believe it is their mission to ritualize, and propound rules of fishing behaviour. Proponents of fly-fishing dogma. Some fishermen have selected catch and release fishing as their source of dogma.

Dogma: An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true.

Here is one piece of absolute truth - there is no such thing as an absolute truth. But here, for better or worse, is the ‘word’ according to this Bishop.

  • Until laws or regulations are made to make it otherwise, the decision on whether to catch and release a fish is - quite rightly - down to the individual choice of the angler.
  • Despite the above it should be acceptable for concerned anglers to inform other anglers of the need to avoid killing fish in water that has low fish numbers, or where populations are under stress, and request that they do not kill fish in those waters. But if that request is denied that should be the end of the matter.

There are those who advocate that all trout fishing should be on an exclusively catch and release basis in all water. These anglers are kidding themselves. What they choose to do on a personal choice level, should not by dint of dogma, become the rule for all others.

  • First, there is some water where a limited cull is actually beneficial to the trout populations - Taupo is an example.
  • Second, there are some stocked, or supplementary stocked water, where a cull is part of the overall stocking numbers equation.

But more importantly than either of these two points is the fact that for most fishermen catching an occasional fish to eat is an integral part of the fishing experience. Indeed, if it does not remain so, fishing may become an endangered occupation.

The fishing fraternity here and overseas has an uneasy alliance of convenience with most of the major conservation and ‘green’ organisations. This alliance based on the fact that both groups have, to a point, similar aims - the care and protection of the water and habitat to ensure the preservation of fish and other marine life. But if the sport fishing fraternity became seen as ‘villains’, by being seen to be subjecting fish to cruel treatment, that alliance will shatter.

Like it or not there are many people, and the numbers are growing world-wide and here, who consider catching fish for sport to be cruel. In their view, to hook a fish, play (a truly unfortunate word) that fish and then release it, is exceptionally cruel. To scale down tackle to make the contest more ‘sporting’ and prolong the fight further, is more cruel still.

There are countries where animal rights groups are targeting fishing. There are countries in Europe where catch and release is illegal. It is a growing trend.

But there is another good reason why most other New Zealand fishermen and I do not fish on an exclusively catch and release basis - I like eating good-conditioned trout. And I like eating good conditioned-trout that I have caught. There are still enough of my ancestor's hunting genes bouncing about in my body to still enjoy eating something, but nowhere near all, of what I catch (less than 1 in 50). While there remain some waters where killing a trout is not going to endanger their populations I will give a few a bash on the brow.

So if I decide to occasionally kill a fish in water that can sustain a limited kill, don't bang on in my ear with catch and release dogma, or I might bang on your ear - or at least get one of my big sons to do it:)

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