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An online space for outdoorsmen from CNY and beyond. Tell us about the one you caught or the one that got away.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Catch and release: Use care and common sense

The famous fly fisherman and star of the TV show “American Sportsman” Lee Wulff popularized the saying that a great game fish was too valuable to only catch once. Lee Wulff’s fishing adventures often stressed catch and release and demonstrated how to properly do it. But Wulff was not rigid or dogmatic about the idea. He would say that it was also proper to keep a few fish to eat. Moderation and common sense should be the angler’s guidelines.
In a recent column we discussed the idea that catch and release often a good thing, especially in areas of high fishing pressure or for species that are naturally propagated instead of raised in a hatchery. That column focused more on the methods of safe handling and care for fish so they can be released successfully.
One thing worth repeating is that it is usually better to release the fish while it is still in the water whenever possible. This is especially true when dealing with large fish like northern pike. Mike Seymour is a guide on the St. Lawrence River who guides clients for muskies, bass and pike. Often his clients will hook a nice-sized pike and bring it alongside the boat. The angler smiles and asks Captain Mike Seymour how much he thinks it weighs. Mike nods and says “well right now it is a 10 pounder. But if we bring it into the boat it will weigh 7 pounds.” The angler grins and says OK, while Mike deftly uses his pliers to unhook the pike and watch it swim away.
As a guide and a sportsman, Mike Seymour quietly stresses the importance of the practice of catch and release. Throughout the season Mike or his son regularly catch big muskies and quickly photograph and release them. This has been an ethic stressed for many years by most muskie fisherman. These elusive and mysterious fish have increased in both size and number in the St. Lawrence in recent years due to this common practice.
Two things, however, must be kept in mind when fishing: It does not do any good to release the fish if you are careless and do not handle the fish carefully. Secondly, this is a guideline and should not be a dogmatic, black and white issue either way.
It is more important to practice this where the fish population is pressured, numbers are limited and much of the population comes from natural propagation. Save the River, a conservation-based organization on the St. Lawrence River, is stressing limiting the number of smallmouth bass that you keep while fishing. Numbers of smallmouth bass have declined sharply in recent years due to several factors, mainly the presence of the predatory round gobies which raid the nests.
But if there are large numbers, or many of that species come from hatchery stock, that is a different situation. You should not feel guilty or be ostracized if you keep some fish for the frying pan. As long as you do it – like most things – in moderation the resource will not be harmed.
Very few people believe in catch and release for walleye. One factor is that walleye are good tasting and that is the reason people fish for them. It certainly is not the excitement of fighting them. Walleye are also stocked by the DEC so the majority of the population comes from this stock.
Of course king and Coho salmon are going to die after spawning so there is no reason to feel guilty. Some people release them so they can continue fishing and others may have the chance to catch the same fish. But the great taste of salmon and the numbers of stocked fish means most will naturally end up on the grill.
When releasing fish with care you should minimize the time out of the water. Using barbless hooks and using pliers makes it easier to release a fish. Wet your hands to minimize removing protective slime when you have to handle fish. Take some quick photos and carefully put it back in the water, or put it in the live well to be photographed later.
If you do have to net a large fish like a muskie to unhook it, place a wet towel over its eyes to keep it from thrashing about the boat. Do not lift it vertically since this unnatural position can put great stress on its organs.
Grabbing a bass by the lower lip can immobilize it, but do not try to force it into a horizontal position using this grip. If you need to take a horizontal photo, use your other hand to support the fish underneath. Pike can be immobilized by firmly gripping the fish over the gill plates or using a “spreader.” Never grab any fish through the gills.
Lifting a trout up under its belly seems to temporarily relax or immobilize them. Again a quick photo, or even one in the shallow water will provide memories or proof of your catch to your friends.
When I was a youngster I practiced a lot of catch and release even before it was popular. Part of the reason was that I wanted to insure lots of fish to catch later and part of the reason was that I was too lazy to clean many fish. We always had a rule to keep any big brown trout. Part of it was the desire to show off a trophy, and part of it was the fact that big browns are cannibals and clean out a pool by eating all the small trout. Today some fishing clubs or leases have similar rules.
Keep in mind that you are fishing to enjoy the experience and if you catch some fish the experience is even more rewarding. If you are going to keep some fish for the grill, just consider the circumstances and do it in moderation.
Shorter Fall Turkey Hunting Seasons: The NYS DEC has adopted new regulations to shorten fall turkey hunting seasons in New York State due to a declining turkey population across the state. The new fall seasons are two weeks long with a statewide season bag limit of one bird of either sex. Season dates vary regionally with the season in the Northern Zone running October 1–14 and the Southern Zone running October 17–30.
The new fall hunting season structure is based on the results of research conducted by DEC. Based on those studies, DEC concluded that the best way to enhance turkey populations while maintaining some fall hunting opportunity was to offer a two-week season in all areas of the state.
Youth Goose Hunt: The Oneida County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and ECOs are again teaming up to offer a special youth goose hunt to youngsters who may not otherwise have the opportunity to go goose hunting. Youngsters must have completed their hunter safety course beforehand.
There will be a meeting with parents, ECOs and hunter mentors; target practice and other preparation for the next day’s hunt. This year’s hunt will take place on the weekend of Sept. 19 and 20. Youngsters will have the opportunity to learn the skills necessary for goose hunting and then actually experience it with the guidance of an ECO or hunter mentor in the field.
The program is open to youths ages 12–17. A small game license and an HIP number are necessary for all youngsters. Youths ages 16-17 will also need a federal wildfowl stamp. Interested participants should contact Scott Faulkner (225-0192), ECO Steve Lakeman (734-0648) or ECO Ric Grisolini (240-6966) for an application for this program. Space in the program is limited so be sure to register immediately.
Special Opportunity To Visit Restricted Refuges: The public will have a special opportunity to visit restricted portions of three Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties starting Saturday, Aug. 15 and continuing through Sunday, Aug. 30. Opening these refuge wetland areas to the public for a limited period gives visitors a chance to connect with nature through hiking, canoeing and bird watching, with minimal impacts on wildlife.”
During the 16-day period, Perch River WMA in Jefferson County and Upper and Lower Lakes and Wilson Hill WMAs in St. Lawrence County, including their wetland restricted areas, will be open to visitors each day from sunrise to sunset, except for Perch Lake, which opens at noon. For most of the year, these wetlands are off limits to the public to provide feeding and resting areas for migratory waterfowl.
The restricted wetland areas are also used by a number of New York State’s endangered, threatened and rare species including bald eagles, black terns and northern harriers (marsh hawks), among others. By late August, the nesting and brooding season is mostly complete and the fall migration period has not yet begun, enabling DEC to allow public access.
For additional information, bird lists and maps, contact DECs Regional Wildlife Office at 315-785-2263 or visit the DEC web page at
DEC Seeks Participants For Summer Turkey Survey: The DEC has encouraged New Yorkers to participate in a survey for wild turkeys throughout the month of August. Participants can record observations of turkeys while exploring the forests and fields around their home or driving.
Weather, predation and habitat conditions during the breeding and brood-rearing seasons can all significantly impact nest success, hen survival and poult survival. This index allows DEC to gauge reproductive success and predict fall harvest potential.
During the month of August, survey participants record the sex and age composition of all flocks of wild turkeys observed during normal travel. Those that would like to participate can download a Summer Wild Turkey Sighting Survey form from the DEC website: Detailed instructions can be found with the data sheet. Survey cards can also be obtained by contacting your regional DEC office, by calling (518) 402-8886, or by e-mailing (type “Turkey Survey” in the subject line).


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