Whenever possible, I support the catch and release of all species of fish. In my book, a valid exception to catch and release is whenever fish will be used immediately and responsibly for food—not hoarded for the sake of hoarding. There’s nothing wrong with keeping fish to eat. It’s right, it’s healthy, and it’s delicious! In fact, lakes benefit from an intelligent harvest of fish. Underfished ponds can become overpopulated with small, stunted fish. I have fished ponds like this, where you can catch hundreds of bass every day, all six to ten inches long. Due to a population explosion, food becomes scarce, leaving a lot of small fish to fight for a little food. Fish are a resource to be used responsibly, admired, and restored, not to be wasted or mythologized.
Here’s how the mechanics of catch and release really work. When using lures with a single hook, such as the Flying Lure, fish are usually hooked in the area of the mouth cartilage, a hard, resilient mass. There aren’t even blood capillaries here. Puncturing this area is much like clipping your fingernail.
I feel most strongly about catch and immediate release when you are fishing in the spring. During spawning time, fish reproduce and some, such as bass, protect their nests full of eggs. It is appropriate to remove a fish from its parental duties if you see it come off a nest. If you catch a fish during the spawn, release it as quickly as possible, as close to where you caught it as possible.
Some people may keep an occasional big fish in the spring. That’s okay. I don’t think that, with conventional fishing methods, humans can ever fish out a lake or river. But they will make the population of fish move to protect itself. Fish will simply move away from fishing pressure—either deeper or toward a portion of a lake that is not “pounded” by anglers.
Tournament anglers are sometimes challenged with respect to fishing for spawning fish. Guido Hibdon, a Bass Masters Classic winner, once asked a critic of fishing for spawners at a seminar, “Do you fish between February and June?” The vociferous critic replied, “Of course I do!” “Then,” said Guido, “you’re a hypocrite because you’re fishing for spawning fish and you don’t even know it!” Guido was right. Unless we completely stop fishing in the spring and early summer, we are, by definition, fishing for spawners. Simply stated, we must have balance in our fishing, not black-and-white rules. Use your informed judgment. Protect what you have, or one day it will be gone.