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My Catch and Release Philosophy

Rick Zieger
By Richard Zieger, Iowa
I have received a few e-mails from folks on the board telling me that I am taking too many fish out of the ponds. I think it only fair to let you know what my philosophy on catch and release is. I don't think that it is very complex, but this is what works for me in the ponds that I fish.

First let me state that I firmly believe that each pond has to be treated individually. No blanket statements about catch and release, (C & R) can be made that will fit all the ponds I go to. In fact, I think that every body of water needs to be treated individually. I also believe that different species must be considered individually.

My first thing to do when I can fish ponds is to get an agreement that I can fish in them for five years. I feel that it will take this long to get them into balance. All I want is the landowner to let me fish there and that I will not tear anything up. I also put a statement in it that I will not hold them responsible if something happens to me while I am on their land. I am not sure how binding this is legally, but most of the landowners like to see it.

I also include a statement that I will open and close gates as I go through them.

Now to the fishing part. I don't keep any of the bass I catch, with a few exceptions. Every once in a while I will catch a bass that I tear the gill plates up in landing it. If it is bleeding badly then I will keep it. This happens two to three times a year. The rest I leave in the pond to control the pan fish. I also try to get the landowner to put a slot limit on the bass that can be taken out. I usually look at from 12 to 16 inches can be taken out, but they also have to take 7 lbs of panfish out for every pound of bass they take.

I have several ponds where we have been doing this for several years. All of these ponds have nice sized panfish in them and you have a good chance of catching a 4 to 6 lb bass anytime you are in the pond. The biggest thing is that bass this size live on eating small panfish. They help keep the numbers down, so the rest of the fish can grow faster.

I do not throw any bluegills or crappie back into the pond, with a few exceptions. Any gill I catch over 11 inches long goes back into the pond. There is just too much research in print that indicates that large gills keep small ones from spawning. I want to keep the large genetics in the pond. Also there is some research out that there may be two strains of bluegills. One will not grow over about 6 inches and the other will grow much larger. By keeping the smaller ones, and releasing the larger ones, I think I am tipping the balance in favor of the larger size gills. This seems to be happening in the ponds that I have been following.

As an example, one of the ponds I fish had a lot of a small panfish. This looked like a gill but had emerald green sides and never got over about 5 inches in length. When I started fishing this pond, I caught several of these fish every time. Now I rarely catch one of them, but the size of the other gills in the pond has increased about 4 inches on average. It is my thinking that these could cross breed with gills and the ones I am getting now are the few that have survived or just come from the mix that genetics can bring about. The main thing is that the size of the fish has increased.

Many of the ponds that I fish are on very fertile ground. There is good weed growth on the bottom and around the shore. There are huge insect hatches on these ponds. I also only fish ponds that drain pasture land. I don't fish where row crops drain into the ponds, just to many chemicals for me. Most of the ponds that I fish are about 1 to 2 football fields in size. A few are a little larger. Most of the water is from 3 to 8 feet deep. The water can go from 10 to 16 feet deep near the dams of most of these, but this is usually less than 1/4 of the area of the pond.

Not all of the ponds can stand as much fishing pressure as some of the others can. I have some that I hit once every other year and some that I can go to three or four times a year. I pay attention to the number of fish I catch and the size. As soon as the size and number start to drop I know I need to back off on the pond some. Some ponds can have 50 fish taken out of them and others can have 400 to 500 fish taken out of them. It all comes back to knowing the body of water.

If you come and fish with me, I will take you to one of the best ponds. I save those for those times. Angler Dave, Joe Hyde, Kevin Slater, Elmer Mueller and Jason Tingling have all been on at least one of my favorite ponds.

Get to know the ponds you fish.

Hope you can get out on the water. ~ Rick ziegeria@grm.net

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