Ladyfisher
Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

September 8th, 1997

Kill Your Limit?



Fly fishermen may be guilty of killing their own sport. A rotten stench of snobbery is running through the fly-fishing community.

No one else has the arrogance to make up new names for things, as in calling a bobber a "strike indicator" or saying the knots in leaders are "wind knots" when they are a result of bad casting. It's an oddity that can be humorous.

This one is not funny. It may be deadly to fishing. Not just fly fishing, but fishing as a whole. Do you have the perception that "all" fly fishers release all the fish they catch? Does the phrase "Catch and Release" fall on your ears with the same effect as a slamming door?

Back in the '70's Bud Lilly's Fly Shop, in West Yellowstone Montana, gave out a button with a drawing of a smiling fish and the words, "Limit Your Kill - Don't Kill Your Limit." Those buttons appeared on thousands of fly vests. My husband and I still have ours.

Back in those days some limits for trout were laughable. Montana's daily limit was twenty fish per day. Good grief, who "needs" twenty fish a day? In time those limits went by the wayside. The idea of limiting your kill was valid for the time and the local conditions.

Personally, I would rather see "Limit Your Kill" totally replace the current Catch & Release (C&R) mind set.

My Dad Can Beat Your Dad!

Is it somehow morally wrong to kill a fish? Is it wrong to want to eat a fish you've caught? Or is lightening going to strike if you even think about keeping fish? Of course not. The whole C&R bit has developed into an "I'm better than you are because I release all the fish I catch."

Or, "I'm so superior to you slob bait or spin fishers because I release my fish." "You are not really a fly fisher if you don't release your fish." Or "All fly anglers are better than all other fishers because . . .yada, yada, yada."

Horse pucky! Let's get real here. Most fly fishers started as either bait or spin fishers. We caught and kept fish, and ate them. Every time we could. Fly fishers evolve - they are not created.

The exception to that (and there always is one, isn't there?) is the whole yuppie group who saw "the movie." Yes, The River Runs Through It, which is now in rerun on the 'telly.' Those people thought it looked graceful, might be interesting and cool, went out and bought a ton on expensive stuff.

A great share of that yuppie group have stashed their fly gear in some closet and are now pursuing the newest craze, gourmet coffee and cigars. Those who stuck with it are hooked for life.

Fish For Dinner?

So how is C&R killing fishing? It is the never-ending preaching that C&R is what fly fishers do. That puts a bad spin on all fishing, and especially on any angler who does keep fish. We desperately need more people who care about the fish. Not less. Fly fishing should not be elitist. Not all fly fishermen put everything back. Not all fly fishermen keep their limit. Truth is, most do not even catch their limit.

Would I keep a bright hatchery steelhead? Probably not. How about a big salmon on the Kenai? Probably. Would I keep trout from a stocked lake? That's a wash because I don't much like fly fishing on lakes. But I wouldn't - not because of C&R, but because I personally don't like the taste of hatchery trout, or scotch either. That is my choice. For the record, the fishery managers refer to stocked trouts as "put & take" fisheries.

Stocked trout usually have no spawning ground. They intend them to be kept. That is what the state raises them for . . . to give you and me and our kids opportunities to catch - and keep - fish.

Where there is a surplus of other fish, like some Pacific salmon runs and Great Lakes salmon runs, there is nothing "wrong" with keeping fish. Let me say here, I am not in favor of wasting fish. If you are going to eat it, great. Not using what you keep is wasteful and wrong.

Key Word Is Choice

Mel Kreiger is a famous fishing personality who has taught thousands of people to cast. He believes anyone who takes up fly fishing ought to keep some fish. It is a direct tie to our hunter-gatherer heritage. Mel specifically instructs his students to get some fish blood on their hands. Personally to know the rewards and liabilities of killing fish. That choice should always be yours to make.

Do you know where the C&R notion came from? Trout fishers had nothing to do with it. A guy who sold boats was promoting Bass Tournaments in the south. They mostly hold those tournaments in lakes. He realized that if all the bass from these tournaments were kept and killed, eventually his boat business and bass tournaments would fade into the sunset. It was a marketing tool. Bass fishermen bought into the C&R idea big time, and smart of them to do so. Bass tournaments have become very popular and highly profitable.

Pass The Lemon

Fly-fishing organizations glommed onto the idea and sold it to members as a way to conserve the resource. "Any game fish," as Lee Wulff first put it, "is much too valuable a resource just to be caught once." Lee was a fine gentleman. The current stench would appall him.

No question, some fish are in trouble. Some fisheries are gone. Frustrated and disappointed anglers sold their boats, gave away gear and turned their back on the water. A wonderful recreational opportunity lost.

Will demanding everyone practices C&R save our wild fisheries? Are there any truly wild fish left now? Will it save the Pacific or Atlantic Salmon? If instead, people fishing are encouraged to limit their kill will they have more interest in preserving the fish?

Can fly fishermen take credit for saving any specific fishery because of C&R? Can we credit C&R with saving any fishery or does repeated catch and release further stress the fish? Can we depend on state fishery management to set realistic seasons and limits?

As for me, if it's legal and I'm hungry for fish, I will tip my hat to Mr. Salmon when I land him. Pass the lemon. ~ The LadyFisher

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