A friend of mine wrote me an email today about his expeditions this weekend to an unnamed reservior. He had a really good day, the highlight of which was catching a 24 inch rainbow. As you can imagine, the fight was spectacular and long. The problem with a long fight is that the fish is usually exhausted and close to dying by the time it is released. The good news is that my buddy taped and weighed the fish and then paniced because the fish wasn't doing well, so he forgot the picture, but after a couple minutes brought the fish back to life and the fish shot off after it's rehabilitation.
I told him that he was a true angler, that the picture was secondary and the fish's health was first and foremost. He told me he didn't even think about the picture until afterwards - the experience of catching that trout was an experience worth more than any picture and he wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he had snapped that pic and the fish died because of the extra 10 or 15 seconds it was out of the water.
That led us to another conversation, and I think it is one we all can relate to as fly fishermen. The conversation of course is catch and release when you don't "have" to. I'm not talking about keeping a brookie in a cutthroat fishery, or keeping a laker, or keeping a post spawn kokanee, or even keeping a fish within the legal limits. Hell, I'm not even talking about keeping a fish outside of the legal post regulations. I'm talking about all those people that ask you if you caught anything, and when you say you did, they say "did you keep it?". And when you say NO - they look at you like you are an idiot.
We have all had this happen to us. But I ask myself, "Why am I the idiot?" I usually want to go into my long winded speech about how I love to fish, the scenery, the puzzle of figuring out the right fly, the chase, and the male hunter in me....blah, blah, blah, but then I realize: If they are asking me this, they don't understand fishing, or a trout, or much of anything about the entire fly fishing experience. So why go through the effort of it and have them just shake their head at me?
I won't go into the whole bait chuckers, spin fishers, worm dunkers, etc. because to each his own, as long as it is within the legal limits, fish how you'd like. Especially with little kids, I think they need to catch fish any way they can to get "hooked" on the sport. But, no one can argue that 99% of the litter and fish mortality is due to these kinds of fishermen. And that fact just SUCKS! Which could explain my distaste for those kinds of fisherpeople, unless they are again, playing by the rules. I'm not saying I am elite, or fly fishing is elite. I am saying that maybe there is the 80/20 rule out there where 99% of the 20% of bait/spin/wormers are destroying our resources and giving the other 99% of 80% a bad name. Maybe these aren't facts, but I'm not sure anyone can argue them either.
Maybe that is the difference - for me fishing isn't a "sport", it is a "passion". Passion is not something you can explain to someone with words, you need to explain it with actions - with the actual experience of being in a place that a select few know about, that an even fewer select fish and that you have to unravel the riddle to get that slick, beadie eyed, gilled, beauty to take your fly, fight his way into your view, then into your net and finally feel him flick his tail, wiggle through your fingers and go free. Again, words can't explain it, but I just closed my eyes and typed that and I could picture 100's of similar experiences where I have hooked, landed and released a fish - of all sizes. Each of those fish has given me another piece of the internal puzzle to explaining why I catch and release. Of course I know why I catch and release my fish, but I am still no closer to explaining it to someone else. However, I do hope that this puzzle has many 1,000's of pieces, and that I figure it out slowly and enjoy every bit of it.
I'd like to insert here what my passion means to me, but I think it is much like every other fly fisherman's passion, yet very unique to me and my experiences. I'd like to explain my experiences, but there are too many of them, all different, and all with sensations overwhelming my 6 senses - which created a unique memory in my hard drive. No two fish are/were alike, no matter how much they mirror each other - sure they may blend in to one memory, but they are millisecond frames in our memory playback.
So, next time someone asks you if you "kept any", say "yes", that you kept them all, because that is the truth and would be easier for them to understand than saying "no". Now, if they ask "how'd they taste", you are on your own.