A few months ago I hooked a striped bass. The fish was clearly a migrating fish, and I knew that because of its color. There were pronounced black lines, vibrant colors of green and purple, and it was covered in sea lice. Resident fish adopt natureâ€™s camouflage and turn a paler brown and white, and because I caught this fish on the flats and it still had those distinctive colors I knew it was passing through. That bass was legal by my stateâ€™s criteria, so I took it home for dinner.
I passed a number of anglers while I headed to my truck. The unanimous response was either â€śnice fishâ€ť or â€śway to goâ€ť or something along those lines. But one angler approached me as I was placing the fish in my truck and he said â€śa good gamefish is too valuable to be caught just once.â€ť That was a comment that the venerable Lee Wulff made in the 1960â€™s and 1970â€™s, and it was one that launched the catch-and-release ethic.
If the angler was trying to make me feel guilty for keeping a fish it didnâ€™t work. In a given year Iâ€™ll release over 95% of the fish I catch. Sometimes itâ€™s because theyâ€™re short and donâ€™t meet my stateâ€™s regulations. Other times itâ€™s a big, heavy female loaded with eggs, and I feel better about releasing her to spawn. And still other times I just donâ€™t feel like keeping a fish. I believe in releasing far more fish than I catch, but when I want to keep one for the table I donâ€™t have a problem with it at all.
One reason I think we have low numbers of fish in certain areas may have to do with our advances on storing our catches. Think about it: prior to the ice box, folks harvested what they could eat. Long term solutions included pickling, smoking, salting, among other methods. Have you ever eaten salt cod? The fresh version is far superior. Nowadays, fish can be frozen for greater length of time. Perhaps, if we all moved to a moderate level of harvesting weâ€™d have enough fish in the waters as well as in our bellies.