Are We Taking the Safety of Trout Too Far?

by | Aug 22, 2021 | 84 comments

It seems that this is the summer of telling people how they should fish, when they should fish and maybe that they shouldn’t fish for trout at all. It’s also now common to tell people when they can take pictures, how they can take pictures or that they just shouldn’t take pictures of their catch.

It’s all getting a little out of hand. And much of the advice offered up is a step too far. This path leads to disaster. And we will lose what we love best if we keep going in this direction. My friends, we jam a hook into a creature’s lip and drag it through the water for fun. That’s fishing, and it’s what we do. Admit it. And if we continue the incessant worrying about trout safety, logic will lead to the end of our fishing altogether.

Does that sound extreme? Well, so do some of the current recommendations out there. And before you judge my views too harshly, please read on, and let me flesh out a few points.

** Fish cold water. Fight ’em fast. Handle gently. Release quickly. ** 

I think we’ve taken the safety of trout far enough. Let’s educate every angler to these standards and stop moving the goalposts.

Water Temperatures

There is no doubt that catching trout in warm water is harmful and can be deadly to the fish. So don’t do it. What’s too warm? My cutoff is 68 degrees. 68-70 degrees has been the prevailing wisdom of science for years. Literature and media have always followed, until this summer, where suddenly, according to some, it’s unethical to fish for trout if the water temps reach 65 at any point in the day.

Maybe the difference in those numbers seems like we’re splitting hairs. But if you’ve spent many seasons on a trout stream, you understand that there’s a world of difference between those three degrees.

Seasons on a trout stream will also teach you, first hand, that there’s nothing wrong with catching a trout in 68 degree water, if you play it fast and release it quickly. I’ve caught trout in a river that was too warm. I’ve made mistakes. The trout seemed sluggish, and it was obvious that I should stop fishing. That was decades ago, before I carried a stream thermometer. Now I take temps and don’t fish over 68 degrees. But that’s not good enough for the guy I met in the parking lot the other day, who offered me some unsolicited advice (with arrogance) that I should not be fishing that morning.

No doubt, his righteousness was fueled by the current extremism.

READ: Troutbitten | PSA — It’s Hot Out There

Photo by Austin Dando

The Places

Climate change is real. It’s your fault, and it’s my fault. Unchecked, excess carbon in the atmosphere will spell disaster to our trout fishing, worldwide. And there’s little if any time left to act on reducing carbon emissions in all forms. Seeing this any other way is just burying your head in the sand against facts and reality. The changes are already here, and there’s no reasonable, fact-based argument otherwise.

Record temps combined with intense drought in some parts of the country have created conditions previously unseen by local anglers. This is happening in much of the west and in other areas of the United States. So by all means, please, employ those hoot owl restrictions and close areas or whole rivers to fishing. I support these regulations when they’re decided by a trusted group of experts with local decisions based on science. But I do not support the demonization of anyone who wants to do a little morning fishing in spring-fed water that’s 65 degrees. And if they want to take a picture of a trout, provided they handle the fish safely, I’m good with it.

** Fish cold water. Fight ’em fast. Handle gently. Release quickly. **  

Maybe the temperatures are hell-hot where you live right now. I get it. So give the trout a break. But in my backyard, and in other places throughout the country, the situation for trout is better than last year at this time. In fact, from June to the middle of August, we’ve had a little more rain than average, with fairly mild temperatures for weeks at a time. It’s the best summer in a while, honestly.

Factor in the tailwaters, the spring creeks with good flows and the cold mountain streams, and there are plenty of places for trout anglers to catch a fish. But that’s not part of the mainstream message right now.

The Lowest Common Denominator

Here’s what’s happening: Some of the trusted voices in fly fishing are offering blanket information for an entire community of anglers. And it’s frustrating to watch. This kind of approach does very little in the way of education. Instead, it picks the lowest common denominator — the least experienced fishermen— and shapes a message for them.

So instead of teaching anglers more about finding cold water, the message is to stay off the water. No trout fishing for you. Instead of teaching people how they can safely catch trout in 68 degree water, the temperature for ethical trout fishing is bumped down lower and lower.

You can’t trust people to fish at 69 degrees, so just tell them the cut off is 65. Right?

And you can’t trust people to handle fish properly, so just tell them to keep trout in the water and don’t take pictures. Let’s tackle that one too . . .

Photo by Josh Darling

The Photos

If we lose trout photos, we lose anglers. And if we lose anglers, we will lose the waters and the vital protections necessary for the trout we so enjoy chasing.

Maybe you say you’re “tired of the grip-n-grins.” Okay, so don’t look at them. But I bet you have your own share of grip-n-grin style photos somewhere from years ago. Maybe you feel like you’re past that phase now. Fair enough. But let others go through it. And don’t condemn other anglers for sharing their achievements.

“Fish pictures are the grand compromise of catch and release. An Instagram feed with a full gallery of trout is replacing the stringer of dead fish for bragging rights. And that’s a good thing. They look better alive anyway.” — Troutbitten, Holding a Trout: Their Heart in Your Hands, September 2016

“The hero shots won’t end. This is the compromise of catch and release. When C&R took over as the expected normal, that didn’t change the angler’s propensity to brag a little about his catch.” — Troutbitten, How to Hold a Trout, May 2019

Do you need to long arm every trout that comes to your net? Probably not. But if we truly want the next generation to enjoy this sport, to become guardians of our waters and the trout themselves, then we must allow for some pride in the success of catching a fish — especially the bigger ones. Because most new (and old) anglers want to show off a trout now and then.

I sincerely believe we should take this caution for trout no further. Sure, for those who’ve been in the sport for twenty years, you may not need another trout picture. But to those new in the game (or hell, for those at any stage of the game) some anglers just want to record their accomplishment, document the moment and share their catch. Stop trying to take that away from them. Instead, educate anglers on how to safely handle a trout.

** Fish cold water. Fight ’em fast. Handle gently. Release quickly. **  

Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with a fish selfie when it’s done the right way. A trout played quickly, handled with care and held in the air for five seconds suffers no harm.

READ: Troutbitten | Holding a Trout — Their Heart in Your Hands

Photo by Josh Darling

The principles of the Keep ‘Em Wet movement are solid. The idea of keeping a trout wet as much as possible just makes sense. And when a trout is held above the water, if it’s not dripping (a lot), then it’s been too long. But I think a good companion movement and message would be, Fight ‘Em Fast. Because the condition of a trout upon its return is more about how it was played — not just whether it was exposed to the air for five seconds. So let’s hashtag that as well: #fightemfast

Let’s also admit that we have an industry constantly pushing lighter rods and lighter tippets. Both tackle choices result in longer fights. So why not teach people better fish fighting skills? Why not focus on better fish handling?

READ: Troutbitten | Fight Fish Fast
READ: Troutbitten | How to Hold a Trout

Likewise, the recent trend pushing anglers to take pictures of trout only under the water is misguided, in my view. And it’s a step too far. I’ve taken underwater trout photos. It requires more setup and more time with the fish than a quick net job and lift to the camera. Think about that. You’re asking (usually) inexperienced, would-be photographers to perform an unusual skill while simultaneously managing a trout under the water. Also problematic, river clarity is rarely conducive for a great underwater shot.

Instead, the clearer message would be to refrain from taking trout photos completely. But I won’t support that either.

It’s a Blood Sport, Friends

I’ve offered these thoughts as a sincere counterpoint to some of what I see happening in the industry right now. My intention is not to cause anger or stir an argument among my peers, for whom I have great respect. I simply don’t agree with some of the mainstream messaging out there. And most importantly, I think these messages travel a slippery slope.

Fishing is a blood sport. Its only removal from hunting is the practice of catch and release. I’m a firm supporter of hunting rights, and I do not agree with the views of PETA, an organization that believes catch and release fishing is unethical. We must accept that our acts of fishing will kill trout. On occasion, no matter how careful, we will accidentally kill a trout once in a while. Surely, we do everything we can to limit harm. But the practice of fishing is not kind to the trout we catch.

At some point, our worry about the perfect protection of the animal we pursue becomes so involved, so extreme, so overbearing, that the only logical step is to stop fishing altogether. I don’t want that. And I don’t think you do either.

If we’re not careful, one thing will lead to the next. Again, I think we’ve taken the safety of trout far enough. Let’s educate every angler to these standards and stop moving the goalposts.

** Fish cold water. Fight ’em fast. Handle gently. Release quickly. **  

Fish hard, friends.

 

** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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84 Comments

  1. Totally agree Dom!

    Reply
  2. Great read Dom,
    Not to go off topic but what thermometer do you use?

    Reply
    • Right now I have the green Fishpond one. I’ve had a few through the years. It’s important to calibrate them. I check them with other trusted thermometers. This current one reads about a degree high

      Reply
  3. As with so many other things these days, people feel it is their right to pass judgement on the choices of others, believing only their choices to be right and righteous. I will make decisions I feel are best when I’m fishing, and I’m looking for no feedback on my decisions from anyone. I will proudly pose with a fish I’ve landed before releasing it. I will fish when I believe conditions are acceptable. I will play a fish as best I know how. But if you see me out there, I ask that everyone keep their opinions about my choices to themselves, for I don’t care what anyone else thinks.

    Reply
  4. Not sure I’m buying what your selling Dom.

    I get your drift, but your tone seems as extreme as what you complain about.

    Maybe I’m just sick of politics. And this post has that odor.

    Lighten up.

    There is a balance.

    Reply
    • Hi Paul,

      This isn’t something I’m feeling very light about, or I wouldn’t have written the article.

      There certainly is a balance, and that’s my point too.

      Cheers, Paul.

      Thanks for reading.

      Dom

      Reply
    • Getting called out on “ethics” in a parking lot or stream by a fellow lip-piercing stranger seems pretty freakin extreme to me.

      Perhaps you don’t follow Instagram where KeepFishWet advocated just not taking fish out of water/photographing them at all last month. No regard for location. Just don’t do it. That’s pretty freakin extreme too since it demonizes the folks who are privy to fishing a safe spring-fed 65er year round.

      We’re piercing the lips of fish and horsing them out of their lies. Dom made some great points about how to dismount our high horses and gain some perspective on how we can be better and still maintain our sport without being jackasses about it.

      Reply
      • Thanks, SwearyAngler. In regards to the no fish picture July, I saw that too, and I thought the same thing — no regard for location. Also, around here, anyway, August is hotter than July. Some things just don’t make sense to me. But that’s most of what I’m saying above.

        Cheers.
        Dom

        Reply
    • Paul . . .

      *you are = you’re
      *your = possessive, singular word. Example: Your opinion conflates ethics with politics which is ironic.

      I spend time on social media and I feel this article hits the nail on the head. Instead of a nuanced conversation there are blanket rules that upon examination fall short of reason. Blood Sport, yes. Ethics within the sports, yes. Forcing West Coast “rules” designed in the midst of a recording breaking drought on East Coast anglers experiencing more rain than normal–truly absurd. Even more absurd–that someone tells you what’s good with fishing when you didn’t intend to fish with them that day anyhow!

      Reply
  5. I like what you are saying – I see folks talking way too long to land fish – with the new stronger tippets you can land them so much faster but some folks do not know how to fight fish

    Reply
  6. I gave up on fish pix a few years back — because I kept dropping the point and shoot into the drink.

    Reply
    • Ha. I ruined two phones that way before I learned my lesson.

      Reply
  7. Best blog out there – who else is willing to air their controversial views in the face of pretty much the entire industry right now? Spot on in all regards – thanks for having the courage to write this.

    Reply
    • Thanks, man. I appreciate the support. Not trying to take on a whole industry, just trying to offer a counterpoint to some things that I don’t agree with.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  8. A voice of practical reason. Thanks Dom.

    Reply
  9. There is never a convenient time for the trout to be stuck in the lip and dragged through the water for our enjoyment, lol. Thanks for putting out a word for common sense and actual experience.

    Reply
  10. From a 44 yr veteran of catching well over 10,000 rout, well said!!!
    I’ve never been about the fight. I hate the fight and want the fish in the net ASAP. I’ve also spent much time safely & patiently reviving wild 20” GSMNP trout by placing them in moving water, eating a sandwich as I watch over them until they swim away.
    I agree, we’ve reached the extreme point where “hook-less” flies appear next, and that’s too far.
    “Respect The Resource”

    Reply
  11. Well said!

    Reply
  12. I totally agree, especially in these times when extreme left or right opinions are so prevalent.
    As a spin, surf and kayak fisherman of quite a few decades, my introduction to fly fishing has taught me so much about safe fish handling, barb crushing, get the fight over quickly and release that natural specimen that gives us a joyful moment or a meal.

    Reply
  13. I support this message.

    Reply
  14. I get the fish in as quick as possible and fish light tackle so I don’t horse it in and risk a breakage leaving a hook in its lip and it is gently returned as quick as possible.

    What pisses me off is people taking way too long to photograph the fish, they breath in water not out, stick your head in a bucket of water for 3 or 4 minutes and see how you like it!

    Reply
    • Fully agree with that, Keith. And I’ve made a point to share that info in multiple articles through the years, like the one linked above, How to Hold a Trout.

      Cheer.
      Dom

      Reply
  15. There might just be too much sense in one place here. I fully agree on all accounts.

    One minor point – i live in an area where it’s been too hot for trout recently (even in the am). If there’s been one good thing to social media it might be showing off alternate species previously not thought to be fly friendly. I know the site is “troutbitten” but do you see anything wrong with promoting other species when the mercury is above 70? Is this too judgemental ? What’s dom fishing for in previously summers too hot for trout fishing? How can we get others diversifying their quarry or should we leave it be?

    Reply
    • Hi Nick,

      Right on. Here’s the answer on that one:

      Troutbitten | The Rocket School of Carpin’ — When It’s Too Hot For Trout
      https://troutbitten.com/2016/07/07/the-rocket-school-of-carpin-when-its-too-hot-for-trout/

      That’s from the early days of Troutbitten.

      I will say, though, it’s literally never too hot for trout around here. There is always a cold water option here. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen to live where I do. 365 wild trout fishing. Honestly, there are plenty of other areas in the country that have cold water right now too. As I mentioned above: spring creeks, tailwaters, mountain streams.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  16. Good points Dom. I usually fish alone so when I catch a fish I want to remember, I take a photo of it in the net. Close up with the focus point on the eye of the fish come out best for me. I’ve gotten some great shots this way. Thanks for the well written content as always!

    Reply
  17. Hi Dom,
    As usual, your thoughtful reflections on the fishing life made me stop and think. In this case, though, I come to different conclusions. Rudeness and righteousness are pretty irritating, whenever you find them. Sorry you had to endure that. However, the goalposts have been moving everywhere, and fishing is not exempt from it. Climate change has evolved from critical to existential. Politics has gone from what’s best for America to what’s best for me. The Pandemic has given us an incredible opportunity to reflect on the world we live in, and if we can extend that to our ‘teammates’ in the river, so be it. Catch-and-release was merely an early accommodation. We now de-barb our hooks, are a lot more respectful about fishing in warm weather, take fewer pics, clean up after ourselves, contribute more to conservation-oriented efforts, and the list goes on. Indeed, your obvious respect for the fish and the process speak to it as well. There is a legitimate point here; it just got covered by the messenger’s rudeness. All the best and thanks for the chance to think about the responsibilities that come from the privilege, honor and pleasure of being a fisherman.

    Reply
    • Well said.

      Reply
  18. Well said. And how do we know what the trout are feeling, anyway? Having just watched some of the extreme sports in the summer Olympics, it occurred to me that trout may view being hooked, sprinting downstream and launching out of the water into head-shaking somersaults may be a form of extreme spot in the trout universe. I can hear it– “Duuude, a little pinch at first but then it’s a wild ride and usually they let you go…”. Your post brings to mind an an excellent article in TU’s most recent TROUT magazine reminding us that it is OK to eat a trout once in awhile, if you want to (though I would encourage you to eat a stocked rainbow over a wild brown, if that is your thing). We all love this sport and ultimately are stewards of the fish we pursue and the beautiful rivers they live in. In the end, common sense, not extremism, will protect the future of out sport and the resources it depends upon.

    Reply
  19. Unlike humans, trout cannot hold their breath. When they are removed from the water they immediately undergo acute asphyxiation. Don’t let their lack of terror or panic fool you – they are literally drowning in the very air we breath. With less than 10 seconds out of the water trout survival is very likely given fast fights and proper handling. After more than 30 seconds out of the water survival is far from certain. Fortunately wade anglers who use best practices can carefully control time out of water. Our concern should be the drift boat anglers and guides who frequently keep trout out of the water for prolonged time periods for hook removal, measurement, handling (passing the fish to the client), and hero shots. I think its time for drift boat anglers and guides to be required to use portable live well tanks in order to prevent what is a hidden but unacceptable mortality rate due to oxygen deprivation. Any properly sized container would suffice; once filled with cold river water, a mechanical aerator would be unnecessary. A plexiglass tank could also be used for those hero shots and if graduated, as a safe and convenient tool for measuring length.

    Regarding the G&Gs posted here, might you consider gravitating to photos of trout that remain in the water as a best practice for C&R survival. If you do post hero shots out of the water maybe the caption could include how many seconds the fish was held out of the water to reinforce the importance of keeping it under 10 seconds. Some food for thought and a good supply of oxygen for those wild browns.

    It is also important in warmer water to keep trout submerged in areas with good current flow so there is a continuous supply of oxygen. The limited oxygen in warmer water with little current can be depleted without a sufficient replenishing if trout are held too long in the net.

    Reply
    • Hi Rick,

      I know many drift boat guides. NONE of them handle trout the way you describe. So it’s unfair to vilify those guides.

      Dom

      Reply
      • I was not trying to disparage drift boat guides but instead pointing out the additional challenges they face in keeping trout in the water, compared to wade anglers. And I offered a simple and inexpensive simple solution: a small holding tank/bucket/container. An acrylic viewing tank with graduations could be used for measurement and picture taking without having to rush. Taking a few extra steps to improve the delayed mortality rate of wild trout will not open the door for the folks at PETA. But it will help to ensure the future of our sport which is under increasing pressure from the new cohort of highly skilled and guided anglers.

        Reply
        • Rick,

          I remember when the plexiglass tank thing became an idea a few years ago. It didn’t stick. (Almost) no one does this because it’s horribly impractical.

          — Find or build, then carry around a tank 30″ x 12″ x 16″. What’s the point of it being any smaller, right? You want to fit in the large trout. That’s the point.

          — Now, while you have a fish at the net, fill up your tank with water. Go ahead and lift all that water weight.

          — Now add the trout.

          — Take the trout back out of the pen and release it.

          Isn’t it really much, much simpler to just lift the trout from the net for five seconds and release it? Yes, it is. And that’s why no one uses those plastic tanks.

          Respectfully,
          Dom

          Reply
    • “With less than 10 seconds out of the water trout survival is very likely given fast fights and proper handling. After more than 30 seconds out of the water survival is far from certain”
      Is there any science to back this up??
      I have observed on lakes fish that spend a lot of time out of the water voluntarily when chasing damsels and dragonflies. This would seem to contradict the 10 seconds survival rate. I have also seen trout chase bait fish up on shore before wiggling their way back in to a river.
      I have caught some fish multiple times and have the photos to prove it as they have individual spots. These are fish that have moved in a braided river. The photo isn’t the problem. The fish is lifted out of the water when the photographer is ready and put straight back in. These fish would be out of the water no longer than a fish chasing dragonflies.

      Reply
      • Clare,

        Thank you, I was going to say something similar.

        I also know that when all fish, not just trout, eat other fish the bony spines of the fins poke holes inside the mouth of the fish eating them. Kind of like being hooked a bunch all at once. So I have doubts about the damage hooks can do and “pain” fish feel too.

        I wouldn’t care to eat a sculpin, but trout love them…

        Reply
  20. Right on, Dom!

    Reply
  21. I love to fly fish for trout. Being out on the water, pursuing this activity in beautiful, remote locations is very peaceful. I like the challenge of finding and figuring out how to catch the trout.

    I love to eat fish, especially salmon (mainly in restaurants and grocery store bought salmon).

    I do not fish for trout when the water temp. goes above 66. I use barbless hooks to make releasing them faster and easier on them and me. I take an occasional photo of fish in my net (especially the large ones) but I keep them in the water and get them back to what they were doing as quick as I can so I can continue fishing.

    I enjoy the act of fishing and don’t feel the need to show others photos of me with a fish I was lucky enough to catch. (No one cares.)

    I buy a fishing license. I follow the regulations for the streams I fish. I pick up trash I see and remove it to keep the place looking good.

    That is what I do. It works for me.

    You can do whatever you want.

    Reply
    • Re fish pics: “(No one cares.)”
      100%. Excellent point, too bad more anglers don’t realize this.

      Maybe its time to veer from the “vacuum the stream” mentality. Improvements in equipment and knowledge has made this too easy for too many. Consider adopting a “personal C&R limit”, like “Catch 3 and go home”.

      Reply
      • Too many assumptions, Rick. Lots of people take fish pictures not to show them off, but for their own record.

        Reply
      • Photos of anglers holding/squeezing a 16″ trout at arms length are getting old, and unless done quickly, are harming the resource we all depend on.

        An action picture while fighting the fish would be an alternative that many anglers would appreciate. It would capture the emotions and setting that the average G&G does not. Add an, in the water pic of the trout and voila the new and improved way to record the catch.

        #lettroutbreath
        #fightemfast
        #68and under
        #5Xminimum
        #3senoughforme

        Reply
      • I don’t know what American rivers are like but I am not driving 120km to a river here (NZ) and and going home after 3 fish. That might be half an hour.

        Reply
  22. Domenick wonderful article and thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  23. Great article and interesting comments from all who have posted. I had to purchase a new thermometer last week due to misplacing (losing) the one I keep in my vest the last time out. The one thing I would like to mention is that the temperature is not the same throughout the stream you are fishing. It is necessary to check the temperature as you travel up and down the water and away from cool water inlets.

    Reply
  24. Well said Dom. Couldn’t agree more. I’ll continue to photograph a wet trout when I see fit despite how others may feel about that.

    Reply
  25. The more we fish the more we will encounter those with differing points of view and beliefs.

    I take photos while out to (firstly)promote what I love to do and (secondly) to some extent show off what I’ve done. That’s just the reality otherwise why would we all want to snap photos to share on the net with friends and loved ones?

    Some say to hold your breath while trying to snap a picture of a fish out of water, if you cant breath neither can the fish… others say snap in the water in a net and you guessed it, some say don’t take any at all.

    I say do what you want as long as you are not deliberately killing trout and the water conditions, fighting time of fish is a reasonable time. But then again that’s subjective to the person criticizing and the reason this is a thing in the first place!

    Fish on Dom

    Reply
  26. Very well said; We have become a society where others “opinions” matter, especially those not based on facts. Maybe it’s the Social Justice/Keyboard Warriors, the same as we, the military, have experience throughout the GWOT era.
    We are a society, now, of restriction to the lowest level of intellectual capacity and not a society that promotes the education of others.

    Education is key to life, and being a life-long learner should be everyone’s goal. Especially in the passions which drive you.

    Maybe each state’s Fish and Wildlife entities need to step their game up on education programs.

    Reply
  27. If holding a fish out of water for a few seconds to take a picture was killing fish, all the fish in my local waters would have died off a long time ago. It doesn’t add up.

    Reply
  28. My son teaches his sons a simple rule for how long to keep fish out of the water. As soon as you lift the fish out into air, hold your breath. When you can’t hold any longer, the fish goes back in the drink. We have many pictures of 6-year olds with bulging eyes and puffed cheeks rushing to put the fish back in the stream.

    Reply
    • Trout do not have lungs to hold an air/oxygen supply. It would be more accurate to have your grandchildren wait until the air in their lungs is depleted of oxygen and respiration is impossible – then take the trout out of the water. No fair gasping for breath until the fish is returned to the water. Monitor their response carefully and have a can of Boost (supplemental oxygen) ready for their recovery if needed.

      Better yet, keep your grandkids safe forget the asphyxiation demo and set a 10 s timer on their smartphone. Include the phone in the photo to show responsible C&R.

      What a great post and fantastic thread Dom. You continue to go where no bloggers dare. Bottom line, we may not be on the exact same page, but we are all in the same chapter: Safe and Responsible Catch and Release: How to hook (barbless), fight(fast), handle (wet-in-the-net and gentle), photograph (quickly), and revive and release wild trout in safe (#68and under) water temperatures.

      Reply
      • Thanks for your thoughts, Rick. Mimicking the fish’s asphyxiation is not the intent of the exercise. Technical inaccuracies aside, the kids at this age simply are not able to hold their breath long enough to threaten the safety of the fish. The internal timer the kids are establishing now will serve them well in handling fish properly for the rest of their lives, long after they are physically able to swim across the pool underwater and hold their breath through long tunnels. Having a 6-year old carry a smart phone on the water so he can set a timer every time he lands a fish is really not very practical. And the pictures are priceless, even more memorable than photos of large fish.

        Great post, Dom. I appreciate your efforts to be reasonable about this recreational passion.

        Reply
  29. Great article. Totally agree. If I have a buddy to take the pic I hold the fish close to my body near the water then let it go. Not a fan of those who hold it at eye level and thrust it towards the camera. If I’m alone I’ll only take a pic of a fish of interest, size, girth, odd looking or something out of its normal territory, etc. Then I leave it in the net, take the pic and let him slide out. If I damage one in season I keep it. If by rare chance I damage one in C&R only season I let it go. Just me. Thanks for the article

    Reply
  30. I take exception to describing *catch-and-release fly fishing* a “blood sport.”
    Practically every fly fisher I know gave up spin fishing specifically because he or she wanted to avoid harming the trout they catch: no treble hooks in the eyes, no bait hooks left in the gullet. Most everyone I know ties their own on barbless hooks or pinches down the barbs on store-bought flies. A dry fly in the corner or a nymph on the tip of the upper jaw represent 99% of the way trout are hooked on flies. I’ve fished with a lot of people, and every one expresses genuine remorse on the rare occasion when they can’t revive a fish well enough for it to sprint away. The vast majority are conscientious enough to find something else to do when the conditions make trout difficult to quickly revive. In my observation, the real danger to trout is from bait anglers who stray from stocked waters and harvest wild trout from special regulations waters.

    Reply
    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks very much for your thoughts. I understand where you are coming from. You are cautious. You and your friends don’t want to hurt trout. And none of us do. But the reality is . . . it’s a blood sport (def: a pursuit that causes blood, injury or death.)

      You said . . .
      “A dry fly in the corner or a nymph on the tip of the upper jaw represent 99% of the way trout are hooked on flies.”

      Respectfully, no it doesn’t. Streamers, wets, nymphs and dry flies cause a lot of injury. Streamers and wets more so because they are often fished as a moving target, and trout miss or reject them but get foul hooked. Likewise, ALL the multi fly rigs across styles foul hook a LOT of trout. Injuries happen. We’ve hooked trout in the eyes, in the gills, the belly and SO many places besides the corner of the upper lip. Your statement is an idealized reality of what actually takes place. That’s what I’m fighting against. And that’s why I’m taking time to make the point. Not to argue, but to bring up the way it really is out there.

      Regarding the bait fishermen comments. I grew up fishing bait, and I still do sometimes. Nearly the same percentage of my trout were/are released unharmed as when I fly fish. Not all bait or gear fishermen fish treble hooks or wait for them to swallow the bait. Not all of them poach fish either.

      Last point: A couple times now in these comments I read about reviving the trout. I don’t talk about that, and I didn’t write about it above, because if you have to revive a trout, you’ve played it too long. I believe it’s really that simple. The last trout I can remember having to revive or having seen revived was one that tangled itself in the line coming in. It was a large fish, in heavy current that probably couldn’t “breath” correctly while it was sideways in the water. Besides that, there’s never a need to revive them.

      #fightemfast

      Thanks for reading. I mean my comments sincerely, and I don’t wish to offend by disagreeing with you.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Thank you for the prompt reply, Dominick, but between myself and my friends, I have observed thousands of trout being caught and released, including with dry-and-dropper and double nymph rigs, streamers, wets, and all other permutations. The rate of foul hooking is in the single digit percentages. The rate of trout swallowing a fly is a fraction of a percent. It’s scarcely an exaggeration to say I practically *never* see blood drawn from a trout caught with a fly. I’m not sticking my head in the sand, and I really don’t think I am describing an idealized version of reality. By contrast, you seem to be suggesting the foul- and fair-hook rates are reversed from actuality. More to the point, your effort to be frank (if not cavalier) about this could very easily be used by overly sympathetic animal rights activists as a public relations cudgel against catch-and-release fly fishing: “See, even ardent fly fishing supporters admit they are cruelly abusing trout for their own amusement . . .” No, we are not.

        Reply
        • Hi Dave,

          You just wrote:
          “The rate of foul hooking is in the single digit percentages.”

          YES. I agree with that! But your original comment said that trout were hooked in the corner of the lip on dries or the tip of the upper jaw on nymphs 99% of the time. So . . . ??

          That’s what you said. That’s what I argued against.

          I gave you examples about how injuries happen, because it’s reality. I’m not cavalier about it. I’m honest about it.

          Regarding blood: It seems that every time they are hooked in the tongue, blood happens. Not a lot, but usually just a bit. What’s that percentage of time? 3% maybe. That does not mean the trout dies. It’s just an example of why the term blood sport applies.

          Enjoy the day.
          Dom

          Reply
  31. Great article Domenick, totally agree. Here in France, animal-rights activists are pursuing the end of catch-and-release altogether, as they believe that comes down to torturing fish. This is the case in Paris, where eating fish is prohibited due to pollution: animal-rights activists call for banning fishing within the city of Paris, to stop “fish torture”. They are doing a lot of publicity on this, even with large advertising posters in the subway. When I recently discovered this, I came to the same conclusion than you: if we go too far, we may end up killing fly fishing itself. I also struggle with the idea that my hobby consists in piercing and horsing fishes, but this is what we do. We can do it in a more respectful way, but we need to admit this. Best, Marcos

    Reply
    • The mouth/jaw/gullet of a trout is not densely innervated. Due to lack of nerves we are certain that they do not feel any serious level of pain when hooked. The reaction of a fish to being hooked (running, bulldogging, jumping, etc.)is a response the the pulling force we exert – nothing like the pain of being pierced in the lip that we would feel. We are not torturing trout by hooking them legally, foul hooking can certainly inflict pain when it occurs in nerve dense tissue. However, trout lack the human emotions of worry, fear, terror, or panic that highly exacerbate our pain experiences. Animal rights activists have made a career out of anthropomorphizing non-human creatures.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the thoughtful post. I, too, have noticed a lot of effort this past summer regarding when, how, where to fish with regard to keeping fish “safe.” Mostly I think it’s a good thing but even I, a relative newbie, found myself rolling my eyes a bit. But I’ve been taught well; I carry a thermometer; and frankly I frequently forgo the pics simply because I typically fish solo and messing with photos is just not that important to me.

        You’re right, Dom, it is a “blood sport” and there is no getting around the fact that try as we might to avoid it, there are times when the fish will be harmed by the activity – when, by our actions, we will harm the fish that we profess to love. That doesn’t occur in the passive voice – we have agency; we choose to participate in this “blood sport.” I appreciate that you’ve told it like it is.

        I myself have an internal ethical dilemma around the “sport” of fishing. I just do. (And I’ve never really felt comfortable referring to flyfishing as a sport; I guess it feels more like a practice than anything else.) The dilemma I experience internally is not out of some idea that it is “torture” or “abuse” of the fish; or out of a desire to be “dominant.” The ethical questions that present themselves to me have nothing to do with “anthropomorphizing non-human creatures” and they are not alleviated by the fact that other ways of catching or handling fish are more harmful than what we as responsible or caring fly anglers practice. Rather, I question my “right” to toy with, or make sport of, another creature’s life. There is something about that, that on a very deep level just doesn’t sit right with me.

        Still, I put that aside because I love the thrill of the take; and for the most part I don’t believe I am causing any more harm than many natural phenomena that fish face every day of their lives. So I live with (and fish with) this internal contradiction. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” It’s a contradiction that perhaps one day I will resolve, and perhaps not.

        I think that it’s a healthy impulse to question one’s own motives.
        I believe there is another way of viewing my place and my role as a human being within a universe of beings that is utterly unrelated to the question of whether or not fish feel pain or what kind of techniques will enable them to survive a release.

        This has strayed a bit off the topic of the original post but is perhaps more of a response to the comment thread and particularly a few comments that quite defensively frame the “OKness” of catch and release in terms of the science of pain and the evidence for fish recovery. I get it – I fish too! But I would like to see people be able to make space for other ways of understanding this activity without reflexively rushing to defend what they’re doing.

        Reply
  32. I have come to the side of those who would like the fish to be kept in the water. I think it is true that guides who are on the water every day will be careful to keep their business partner in good health, but if you imagine all those years of the fishing mags, the classifieds, the pictures posted on the tackle shop walls, all those many thousands of photographs, and so on, you might imagine that some of those fish were hastened to their death by asphyxiation.
    I also think that there could be a dedicated day off from fishing on the rivers that are being hit so hard…maybe once a week. I remember what happened to fly fishing after A River Ran Through It, and now this is even more…let’s try to love it and leave it in the water.

    Reply
  33. Thank you for these thoughts! A return to sanity. I’m afraid the “coaching” comments so often seen are sadly rooted in a deeper issue.

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  34. Dom,
    Thanks for being a proponent of reality, and yet strong advocate for common sense approach to conserving a valuable resource. I too get tired of the over zealous path that some of the recently “recognized” (self-recognized maybe) talking heads are taking the sport of fly fishing. I try to limit my time on the water when temps are truly high; and bring fish in quickly, and release them quickly and carefully.

    And I sympathize with your opinion of allowing for folks to carefully and quickly take a photo and return the fish to the water, minimizing their time out of water, etc. I teach kids fly fishing for a nature center in Colorado, so I am dealing regularly with the new fly fisher, and their need/desire to record their success. This is what helps t build the enthusiasm for life-long commitment to the sport.

    Thanks again for speaking up. We need a few more independent thinking people in what seems to have developed into herd complex in the newer generation fly fishing.

    Reply
  35. Nicely stated Dom.

    I was on Penns this week with my kids, and there are some new “safe temp postings” underneath every “Slot Limit” placard. The irony?

    Don’t get me wrong…I completely agree with what the signs are preaching, but…

    When I tried to explain the different ranges to my kids…I could see their eyes glazing over.

    You’re right, we need to keep it simple. The signs should be replaced with…

    “Fish cold water. Fight ’em fast. Handle gently. Release quickly.”

    Keep It Simple.

    Reply
  36. I agree with your points. One handed photos of large trout on fishing sites is all too common these days. The message of how to safely handle the delicate resource is something that needs to be continally addesss. Education is the key. Thank you for posting this.

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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