Catch and Release I Must Grandma
My Grandma Rowe was the most beloved member of our family. She died at 102 years of age and is missed by all who knew her. A preacher’s wife, her life’s mantra was serving others. As a young child, I struggled being able to imagine Grandma chasing chickens around the barn yard of a family with a new baby. The story went that she caught the chicken, wrung it’s neck, scalded the carcass, plucked the feathers, prepared a fried chicken dinner, served the family, then did a kitchen full of dirty dishes which had accumulated as the new mother recovered.
Grandma broke my heart when she told me as I unleashed my early teenage attitude, “Steve, you have become quite a smart aleck haven’t you?” But forgiveness quickly granted was her style.
All of her Grandkids loved spending time with her even if it meant losing a game of Aggravation to this highly competitive woman.
As I began fishing we had an activity we loved in common in addition to the bond of love which kept us close. Every year before heading to the Keys to fish I believed it would be good luck if I called Grandma to tell her I was headed to Florida to go bonefishing.
She would always ask, ” Are they good to eat?”
” I don’t know”, I would reply.
“Why not? What do you do with them if you catch one?”
“Release them,” I would sheepishly respond.
“God, put fish on Earth to eat you know.”
Grandma, you may well be right about the grand creation plan of God, but when it comes to bonefish, I release what I catch. All who love any aspect of this earth should enjoy the resource while at the same time treating it with respect. The term “catch and release” is not new to the fishing world. I can honestly say that I do not know of any bonefish kept by my fishing buddies in Florida. Every bonefish we caught since 1988 was released. As of September 1, 2013 bonefish caught in Florida must be released which is a measure long over due.
Releasing a caught bonefish is only part of the battle. The whole process of catching the fish affects chances of survival. A few tips.
Fight the fish with appropriate tackle. Fisherman seem to thrive on bragging rights. It goes something like this. “I caught a 10 lb bonefish on 4 lb test mono or tippet!” So what? Use sufficient line or tippet strength as well as an appropriate rod and reel to land the fish quickly. The shorter the fight, the higher the survival rate.
On many occasions while in the Keys my buddies would return to share stories of a bonefish being eaten by a shark or barracuda. Trust me, it is hard to want to break off a hooked bonefish when a shark is in the area. Why? Ego, the heat of the battle, focus on the catch…no matter. If you see a predator start to chase your bonefish, break it off immediately. Or if an already streaking hooked bonefish suddenly accelerates as it peels line of a smoking drag, clamp down on the line and bust him off. A shark or cuda is surely chasing the fish whether the angler sees the predator or not. Or if you have landed the fish with sharks in the area, move to another location before releasing the fish.
Once you have a fish at the boat there is a simple equation. The math works like this. The less exposure, the less handling equals the best release. I have many pictures of bonefish. Some of these fish were out of the water too long. And handling the fish for a picture will inevitably remove some of protective slime of the bone. The slime is the coat of armor of the fish so leave the fish armed. Take the picture while the fish is in the water or do not take it at all.
As you release the bonefish hold it by the tail in an upright position and be patient. Keep the bone upright and when it has sufficiently revived from the fight you will feel a surge as the fish is prepared to swim off. Only then should you release the fish. If the fish falters as it swims off retrieve it and start over.
Fly fisherman should use barbless hooks and bait fisherman should use circle hooks.
There is much more but the point is this. If you care about a fish, a plant, a pet, a forest, a beach…or anything in this marvelous creation, you have a duty to protect what you claim to love!
And so Grandma Rowe, I must say again. I do not eat bonefish. Yes, some creatures may exist to provide food. But God put some creatures on this earth to remind of us of the pure joy of the wild! Bonefish are just such creatures.