Letting Go

By Beacon Staff

I release most of the fish I catch. My marginal angling skills may suppress the number of fish I return to the water anyway, but when I bring a trout to the net it almost always swims away.

It’s gotten to the point that I rarely even bother with fishing regulations.

I don’t have a problem killing fish. Occasional kills are important. Fishing is really just another form of hunting, though the capture of game involves the use of lures or bait, neither of which is necessarily lethal. So fishing is hunting, but a type of hunting that allows the angler to reflect in a way the big game hunter can only before pulling the trigger.

We get to put our fish back, and in the case of Montana rivers which are not stocked with hatchery fish, that catch-and-release ethic allows wild populations of trout to thrive. But from time-to-time we should club a few over the head and eat them. It’s a reminder that fishing is a blood sport, not some ordinary pastime. Those catch-and-release purists who look down their noses at anyone who knows how to wield a filet knife are confused. Fly fishing is more than just golfing with waders.

Years ago I read an essay by a hunter reflecting on the moral quandary he faced killing birds he found so magnificent. If I recall, the hunter was reminded of the catch-and-release ethic that was then just gaining purchase in the fishing world as his dog retrieved a downed quail. He suggested that if catch-and-release hunting was possible, if he could somehow blow life back into the dead bird in his hand so that if might fly away unscathed, he would do so in a second.

That notion gives me the creeps. It’s a little like Kenny in South Park, week after week dying in some some gruesome, horrifying way, only to be resurrected the following week as if the blood and guts had never happened.

A Brown Trout is released after being caught.

Catch-and-release quail hunting? To that I say “No way … You bastards!”

But the mechanics of trout fishing are different. You fool the fish. You hook the fish. You play the fish. Then, after netting the fish, which constitutes catching it in my book, you put the dang thing back and go find another. Do it right and the trout lives to fight another day.

Letting go is the easy part.