We live in an ever oppressive world where opinion and thought are being continually repressed by the overbearing regimes of ‘health and safety’ and ‘political correctness’. To illustrate, one of my son’s story books has a piece about a ‘thin sheep’ and a ‘wide sheep’ with accompanying imagery. I was always of the opinion that the opposite of thin was fat but apparently we are discouraged from using the word fat because the term may cause offence to people. ‘Fatophobia’ is apparently a thing now and we all have to be careful what words we use so as not to hurt the feelings of others. Imagine living in a world where being offended by a word is viewed more harshly than using that word to highlight the dangers of obesity related diseases but that is exactly where we are at. Strange times indeed.
What has all this got to do with fishing? With the current trend of people making careers of finding things to be offended by, I feel that this train of thought is very relevant to fishing. We are increasingly finding ourselves in a society where pain and hurt are frowned upon and are things to be avoided at all costs. Extreme? Perhaps but look at the amount of schools that are encroaching on children’s activities in case of injury by banning running in playgrounds. Look at the city council that will soon debate the banning of playing sports in public parks. Freedoms are constantly being eroded in the names of ‘political correctness’ and ‘health and safety’.
Where fishing comes into this is the ever increasing trend for anglers to use increasingly lighter gear when targeting increasingly larger targets. Many look at this as ‘sporting’, many more are looking on it as ‘cruel’. Cruelty can be well defined as inflicting pain and suffering on an organism or entity beyond and above what is deemed necessary. Some would argue that fishing as an act is cruel but I think that there are more than enough positive aspects to the sport for both its participants and its environment to negate this argument. The wellbeing that one feels from a day in the outdoors, the ability of angling to teach respect of the environment to youngsters, the fact that most pollution incidents are reported by anglers and the ability to sustain and improve natural fisheries through catch and release are all incredibly valid and relevant points to the pro responsible fishing argument. We live in an odd era where groups like PETA want to put a halt to recreational angling altogether. This can never happen and to facilitate this we must learn to fish catch and release responsibly.
Let me preface this piece by saying that if you fish for the pot exclusively then the following is irrelevant. If you intend to release your catch then the most responsible approach is to use gear that will allow you to land the fish quickly so that it still has plenty of energy left for the subsequent release. Every year stories circulate regarding ‘epic’ 45 minute battles with 20lb pike on light gear which are greeted with enthusiasm and lauded as ‘wonderful angling feats’. I shudder when I hear them. A fish that has fought for its life on sub strength gear does not have fantastic prospects for survival. A fish that is fought like that needs an awful lot of attention to resuscitate it and more often than not has the potential to go belly up. I have been fortunate enough to catch 20lb pike and on a proper deadbaiting setup (3lb rods) most fish can be landed within a few minutes.
It’s not just the pike that suffer at the hands of light tackle; it is an increasing trend in fishing everywhere. I recently had a conversation with an angler and he was talking up the efforts of a friend of his who had managed to catch a salmon and revelled in telling me that said angler spent almost an hour trying to resuscitate the fish. My instant retort was that the friend and ‘angler’ should consider using stronger gear, particularly if he was fishing salmon on a catch and release water. An hour’s resuscitation for a salmon tells me that the fish was played to the point of exhaustion and was close to dead when hauled in. The explanation offered was that he and his friends liked to fish as light as they could for ‘sport’. Again, I have no problem with this approach when fishing for the pot but to engage it when salmon fishing on a catch and release river is nothing short of daft. Similar stories abound.
A lot of anglers know better, a lot don’t. Regardless, it will not be the anglers that are a potential threat to the sport, it is the non-anglers. A perfect case study is a video that RTE shared which features kayak angler Graham Smith catching a porbeagle from his kayak. In a word my personal feeling on the capture is ‘mad’ but I am an experienced kayak angler and I understand the work, planning and execution that went into that. A look through the comments attached to the associated video show a large proportion of the public that viewed the video were not at all impressed. A comment suggesting that he have a hook attached to his lip and then be dragged about for three hours seems to be the most popular on that particular video. I am not suggesting for one minute that Graham did not know what he was doing but to quote what a dimwit once said to me on a different topic; ‘It’s all about the optics’.
If I am keeping fish I do like to fish light – nothing is more fun than mackerel on a fly setup or crash diving pollock on a light spinning rod. However, if I am catching and releasing I use appropriate gear to beat the fish quickly so it has a better than average chance of survival when returned. I tag fish for scientific research; it seems daft to wear them out to the point of near exhaustion before tagging and trying to release them. I use 3lb test curves for piking, I use 30lb class rods when fishing for tope. Anybody who fishes with me knows that drags are set tight and fish are played hard. To me it seems a complete contradiction to try to release something that has been played to the point of exhaustion. I like the fight but I prefer to get a look at the fish and then watch them swim away strongly. Some anglers will agree, some won’t. Most of the non-angling public would be horrified.
As anglers we need to be responsible for the image of our sport. It is our responsibility to ensure that the general public have a positive image of anglers. Litter and antisocial behaviours are a big problem to our sport but perceived cruelty from non-anglers is a dangerous path for us to tread in the ever increasingly politically correct world. Some people reading this may think I am mad but I bet you would have thought the same thing if somebody suggested banning the ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ nursery rhyme due to racial connotations which has happened in places……
Enjoy your angling, responsibly.
This piece appeared in Off the Scale, Ireland’s best online angling magazine. Click on the logo above to visit this free site, full of quality articles from Ireland and abroad.