The Paradox of the Fragile Trout...

It doesn't take a lot of reading (either internet or print) for one to stumble upon some resource stating that fish, particularly trout, need to be handled with extreme care upon being caught.

As such, there are barbless hooks, rubber catch nets, and movements, such as "Keep 'Em Wet" which stresses reduced exposure to air, that are all aimed at reducing the catch & release trout mortality rate.

Image Courtesy Native Fish Society

In concept, this all sounds good to me. I'm on board. I already use barbless hooks and make sure to wet a hand first when handling fish in an effort to protect the slime coat. Plus, anyone that's fished with me knows that the fish I do photograph sit in my net in the water until I'm ready to take a quick picture.  Heck, sometimes I don't even take them out at all.


But if this all comes back to trout mortality...and people are openly willing to condemn someone who so even slightly mishandles a trout...well I guess what I'm saying is if trout are so fragile, and we're all so concerned about their welfare, why do we fish for them in the first place?  

I mean you can pick up fragile item (like a drinking glass) gently, place it on the table softly, but you're not going to ask your buddy to toss it across the room to you like a baseball first, right?  The odds of it surviving that ordeal are just not in its favor, even before you get your hands on it.  Perhaps not the best comparison, but you get the point.

Look, I'm not trying to get all PETA here, (abhorrent is not the word for those clowns), but as anglers we're jamming a sharp hook in the mouth of an unsuspecting trout, dragging it through the water against its will, stressing and likely exhausting it in the process, all in the name of sport. Unless of course you plan to eat what you catch, but these days even that seems to be frowned upon by the vocal "majority."  Thank you social media for that omnipresent guilt trip.

Maybe as conscientious anglers we shouldn't be fishing for the delicate trout at all, rather focusing on more hardy species like the bluegill that seem to thrive in every body of freshwater big and small, are regularly "mishandled" by trout standards, and only seem to come back begging for more.


Who knows, maybe those of us who tend to focus our efforts toward catching (and inadvertently mishandling) wild/native trout are the biggest sinners of them all? Perhaps we should just focus on stocked trout, which less face it, are largely intended to be "put and take" fish. At least the kind I'm thinking of. Heck, in some remote places trout get stocked by dropping them from the sky

In the end, I'm not going to stop trout fishing. That'd certainly make for a crappy blog. I'm also not asking you to either. It's great that more focus is being placed on trout "safety" than probably ever before...and I'm in on all counts. This little paradox in trout welfare is just food for thought...and perhaps a catalyst for conversation.  

Comments (as always) are welcomed below.  There was certainly no science or research applied to this little ramble, so if you want to drop some knowledge, come and get 'em.  Just remember, I'm on the fish's side here too.

Comments

  1. Good write up, Mike. Fish are tougher than most people think unless they are unduly stressed by high temperatures or other issues. I think it is over hyped , especially when it comes to stocked fish. Those who don't understand the science will defend a stocked fish just as vehemently as you or I would a native.

    Some of the stuff we do for saltwater fish would make your average trout hugger have nightmares

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    1. I can't imagine when it comes to salt. Considering there's reports out there (true or not) that the oceans will be barren of fish in like 20 years...

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  2. Thank you.
    I see all fish as game for the fly. I'm warmwater by location. But if I had the option, I'd fish trout, too. It's a heritage thing, to me.
    But it's my opinion that they should all be handled with equal respect.
    I may be the only guy that treats bluegill that way, I dunno.

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    1. I'll come clean, I tend to toss bluegill back in then do the graceful release. Doesn't mean I feel good when they take a fly just a bit too deep though.

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  3. I've written about this before. They stock trout in remote areas by dropping them out of airplanes. IMHO, the idea that trout are somehow worthy of deity status was started by fly fishing snobs who, needing to feel some kind of faux-moral-superiority over their fellow anglers, decided to all but worship the things. The truth is, they're alot tougher than people (these days) think, and in the end - they're just fish. Our society has simply turned any kind of cultural "common sense" on it's ear these days which is why we murder our own and worship trees and "clean water" instead. It's sick, disgusting and wholly capable of ruining the fun of fishing. Fish are food, not friends - and they certainly are not worthy of all the extremely radical agendas or feelings people have taken up when trying to protect them. Respecting the resource is fine - but it's just a d&$^# fish. :) Have a nice day, kids.

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    1. I knew I'd get you with this one. We've talked about this before once fishing from atop a bridge. I'm not certain I "get" the whole putting trout on a pedestal thing, but I will say that I do try to handle any fish somewhat gently...you know, to make sure I can at least try to catch them again some day. But if trout were as fragile as some make you think, I'd be surprised there were any left.

      Maybe I'll write a post about dogs tomorrow...

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  4. Excellent post, I too have looked at this issue seriously. Though not in regards to Trout specifically but the practice of Catch and Release in general. You can find my full thoughts on the matter here: http://atlasfishing.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ethic-of-catch-and-release.html In summary though, and applicable to wild trout in particular, is the question, is what we as anglers do a net positive or negative? Surely the efforts of TU and others have helped restore and protect many trout populations. Without us as anglers, who would care? I don't see PETA out there restoring and protecting wild Brook Trout streams. Yet, equally we must admit and be honest about the fact that we are inflicting pain on these species. Again, is this a net positive or negative effect on trout sustainability in general?

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    1. Nice post there, thanks for attaching that link! I like the concept of a "net" positive in regard to sustainability.

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  5. All good points Mike. If some of the mortality statistics I've heard are true, none of my local streams would have any fish left just between what Karel and I catch. People love to exaggerate.

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    1. The whole reason I wrote this post is because somebody was quoting some statistic (not sure if it was true or not) on Facebook that seemed a bit out there to me. Something along the lines that only 10% of released trout live to be caught another day (or something really low like that). I'm all for conservation, but I agree with you on the fear mongering. And I believe you...I've never fished with you...but Karel is a machine.

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  6. Great post! Fish are tough. I try my best to handle all fiah the same. I, too, am guilty of letting bluegill fly. Sometimes you have no choice fishing from shore. People really need to take them down off the pedestal they have them on. I pretty much aagree with everything that's been said in your post and comments.

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  7. From the November 2014 TU calendar:
    "Trout are quite unaware of their exalted status" -Harold Blaisdell

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