Go beyond Catch&Release
What made Catch and Release so important? What are the dynamics behind the idea itself? Sean Wit takes you through, why this is becoming common culture.
Over the years we have seen a strong embrace of the Catch and Release principle across the globe. In some countries, it was a movement started by the angler community itself, using the power of media to create a movement. In other countries it where the authorities that created stricter regulations, limiting the amount of fish caught or go for a 100% catch & release policy to improve fisheries.
As a result, we have seen some great improvements in fisheries across Europe, a success story to be proud of and a lesson full of helpful insights for the feature! But we can do much, much more!
In this article I will go in detail on how you do more than just releasing the fish we cherish the most. I will cover everything from background details, equipment and tips on how to handle as quickly as possible.
Protecting the pike for future generations and sustainable fishing
The basic Catch and Release principles
I will focus on pike, as this is my main expertise. Pike has been a target in many countries of non-Catch and Release for decades, either for consumption or because of the idea that pike have a negative impact on the number of other species. Particularly trout lakes had policies where anglers needed to catch and kill every single pike to boost the trout population.
In the eyes of the ones that created those policies, pike are aggressive, eat everything they can and simply decimate the precious and fragile trout population. But in reality, pike eat the weaker fish, clean out diseases and in general create an environment where other species can thrive, growing bigger and stronger due to natural selection.
Consumption of pike is getting less and less popular, as the fish itself does not taste that great at all and due to the overall better economic climate across the globe we are less dependent on catching our own food. In all honesty Catch and Release is a luxury. Try to explain to someone in a 3rd world country that we release a fish that could feed us for days and they will think you are crazy.
What makes Catch and Release and pike survivability so important? Two main reasons: reproduction and bigger fish!
Let it go, let it grow!
This one is very, very simple. If you catch and 70cm pike and it does not survive, it will never grow to a 100cm+ fish. Period. No rocket science there. We can see proof of how this works in several examples. Pike have a unique set of markings; you can compare it to our unique fingerprints. Based on these markings you can identify individual fish.
Over the years, I have experienced several success stories of pike being caught, released and being caught again. My first big 110+ fish was caught two years later on the same exact stretch by a friend of mine in my boat. Different lure, but not a meter from where we met her the first time. On a big lake in the Netherlands my buddy Jesper caught a 101cm fish in June, I caught her at 102cm in end of August. Two years a buddy of mine caught the same, super recognizable fish at 110cm! She grows fast! One year later, out guiding, one of my guests hooks a big fish and at the first glimpse I tell them I know this fish. No markings at all, almost like a musky. Baffled due to my statement, they need to photos for proof obviously. At 115cm she kept growing rapidly and she was in prime condition!
A 124 giant…
Caught again a few years later at 127cm!
In 2019, during the Dalsland Canal Expedition, we had a 127cm giant on board. My buddy Frans caught that fish on a 40cm 3D Line Thru Trout he borrowed from me, as he forgot to bring his box of Line Thru Trouts. We always joke around that borrowed lures perform the best and this was no exception. After a few months, I decided to compare this fish to others that we caught on this lake. Turns out, it was an old acquaintance! A few years back we caught the same fish together at 124cm! Definitely a lot slower in growth, but this lake is deep and especially cold. If we didn’t advocate and practice Catch and Release as much as we did, we would not have been able to enjoy these fish the way we were able to do.
More importantly is the impact these big fish have on the entire pike population. Pike generally lay between 15.000 to 20.000 eggs per kilogram in bodyweight. This makes a 10kg+ pike a beast in the reproductive sense too! True hatching machines which are vital for the pike population. Not releasing these big fish impacts the next generation of pike.
Another important factor that gets overlooked easily is genetics. Those big fish partially grew so big because they had the right genetics to do so. Releasing them to breed ensures we have more big fish genes into the system. Another reason to be extra careful with our queens of the freshwater.
The biggest risk for pike: Warm water!
With the climate getting warmer and warmer. Over the past decade we have been faced with higher water temperatures. It might be nice for us to enjoy a tropical summer, but not every fish in our freshwater agrees with those temperatures. Perch and zander do not really mind, but pike are sensitive to those high temperatures. The hard part is; what is the threshold to stop fishing for pike?
Some factors that come into play to explain how complicated this situation is. The surface temperature, the thermocline, shallow or deep water, oxygen levels and if there is any current… Just to name a few! To make it simple, I advise everyone to stop fishing for pike on shallow water at 21 degrees Celsius water temperature, big lakes and rivers at 22 degrees Celsius. You have to draw a line somewhere and we can all debate the different variable that ‘might’ make it safe to fish at higher temperatures, but in all honesty, those are, for the most part, excuses. Just shift towards other species like perch, zander or catfish.
If the temperature is too high, target other species!
Of course, you can hook a pike with a lure for let’s say perch, but the odds are way smaller than targeting pike specifically. If you do hook a pike, make sure you get the whole thing done as fast as possible!
Speed is key
The lack of oxygen and the heat wears them down. In general, I already fish with fairly heavy tackle, trying to keep the fight short. For my bigger swimbait setup, I always use the Savage Gear Custom Predator rods, 170gr and 240gr casting weight. Thick braid (minimum of 0.32) like Silencer to avoid breaking off and it allows you to fight the fish at a high pace, keeping the fight short and reduce stress.
Unhook the smaller ones beside the boat, a good set of long nose pliers will do the trick. If the hooks are in funky position, slap on a set of gloves like the Aqua Guard gloves to get a bit of extra protection.
Unhook beside the boat, letting the pike rest in the water.
Net or handlanding?
I always advocate to hand land a fish whenever you can and feel comfortable to do so. A net takes more time to unhook due to the need to untangle and it is more damaging overall. It all comes down on making a judgement call and if the hooks are not outside the mouth, netting can be the faster option. Also, your own safety first and do what you feel comfortable with. Try and hand land the fish whenever you can, it also is a great way to improve your overall handling skills.
No use in netting a well hooked fish like this, with trebles on the safe side of the jaw!
Once landed by hand, I still use the net in some situations. That might sound weird, but there is a good reason for it. Keeping the fish in the water for as long as possible is a great way to improve survivability. My usual procedure goes like this:
- Land the fish by hand (use a glove if needed)
- Unhook the fish
- If I want a photo session, put the fish in the net besides the boat to rest
- Short photo session and some measurements
- Release by holding the fish in the water, head downwards
Let them rest for a while in the water, even when hand landing a fish!
Tools, tools, tools!
If a treble is in a bad position that removing it will cause more damage, or it is just stuck and you cannot get it out fast enough, you should always cut the treble immediately. A good cutting plier is an absolute necessity. The bad (and usually cheaper) ones will only take more time. Savage Gear has a great 21cm Cutting Plier that helped me cut through trebles up to 7/0! Cut the treble, remove the parts that you can remove easily and quickly release the fish.
Another tool that can beneficial for health of the pike is a cradle. Letting them rest in an upright position helps them get their balance. I find that balance and oxygen are the two key ingredients for successfully releasing a pike.
When releasing them during warm temperatures, try to support them by holding them by the tail and let them rest in the water. Moving them around to stimulate waterflow through the gills is something I advise NOT to do, unless it is really gentle and subtle. Moving them around a lot creates more stress and we want to lower those stress levels by letting the fish rest. If you want more oxygen in the gills you can point their head downwards. The deeper you go, the colder the water is and richer on oxygen. Hold them for as long as it’s needed, don’t stress out when they won’t swim away in the first minute. Keep your own calm and that of the pike.
It all comes down to teamwork!
Finally, the most important part when fishing in a boat. A good fishing buddy that knows his sh*t is worth its weight in gold. Assisting with unhooking, netting when you want to speed things up, getting all the gear ready while you fight the fish. I can name a ton of qualities I admire in a fishing partner, something for a future article. For now, I wish you guys all the success in the world for the coming warm months. Enjoy the summer, fish responsibly and cherish that warm weather because before you know it, its Autumn!
Quick shot before releasing…