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Why do you enjoy fishing? Ask yourself that and consider the reasons you come up with. For me, it is the serenity of the sport. Being able to leave all my city woes behind and escape the pressures of the modern-day.
This time outside recharges my batteries in a sense. A breath before the swim from Monday to Friday. As outdoorsmen we need this, it is who we are, and with that need comes a responsibility that we carry.
As a child, I remember fishing the Stillaguamish River back home and even back then there was litter everywhere and that is when I was taught the responsibility that I have to the land that I take from.
Fishing is a gift. It has gotten me through quite a bit in my life. It is like a dear friend that is always there for you when you need him. When you connect with angling in that way you really start to see it for the gift that it is and the more you will want to protect it like me.
This love of the outdoors and fishing as well as the sharing of these stories is what led me to where I am today, and I hope that if you do not have this understanding already, you will find it within this article.
What does it mean to be a steward of the waters we fish? I have always believed that my grandchildren should be able to enjoy fishing the way I do today. I have always found that to be a noble goal for the task of conservation.
There are so many ways we can do this that we do not have enough room here to discuss them all. But here are at least 5 things we can do to show our appreciation, respect and love for the gift of fishing. Let’s dive in and discuss them.
What Can You Do?
Consider the simplicity of a good deed or action. Grabbing a wad of fishing line off the ground and taking it home to throw out takes only 10 seconds. That is a small, insignificant amount of time when you consider you just spent 4 hours there fishing. Please be considerate this way and consider doing the right thing.
Once established as a habit, you will quite literally be a powerhouse for conservation. There are many more ways other than what I will list here, and they are all great practices to have. These are a few of the bigger issues that are maybe overlooked by many anglers.
1. Handle Your Catch With Care
Fish themselves are very delicate and when releasing them, they need a little extra attention. The term “throw them back” has been something we biologists have been combating for quite some time.
If you are going to literally throw the fish back, you may as well just keep it. The fish have a sensitive bladder that they use to regulate their buoyancy. When you throw them back, you throw that bladder’s equilibrium off and it can lead to the fish dying.
Consider the fact that most fish lay quite a few eggs, and accidentally killing one needlessly in this way eliminates those eggs. One fish lost, is many fish lost. When handling the fish do not squeeze them needlessly either or you may bruise and injure their organs.
2. Safely Release Fish
Safely releasing a fish is extremely easy and in a way fun and I will explain how. When you remove a fish from the water, they enter a form of shock after a bit and going back into the water abruptly by throwing is unhealthy for the fish.
Some fish just do not “take” to the water again because of the speed at which it was released and swim away to die around the bend. Being gentle and patient is the best answer.
First, have a plan in place, and I am not talking about how fast you can return it to the water. You should always know if you plan to keep the next fish before you even set the hook. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched anglers let the fish sit on the shore for a few minutes while they make up their mind.
Basically, the policy I follow is that the fish must spend as little time out of the water as possible. Now for releasing a fish properly you must be patient. Gently rest the fish’s belly in both of your hands and place him in the water.
Gently move him forward and backward to get him acclimated to the water again. After a few seconds, he will swim away healthy and be ready to be caught again downstream. The back and forth movement not only imitates motion through the water for the fish but also stimulates gill respiration.
3. Pack Your Trash When You’re Done
Ok, so this one is straightforward but extremely important in many ways and one you may not have ever heard about. The importance of eliminating litter at waterways and fishing access points is due to the harm to wildlife.
We consider that animals choke on plastics and get tangled in fishing line but more than that, it just looks bad and that encourages more littering. Studies have shown that a littered fishing access site encourages others to do the same. It is the “everyone else is doing it” mentality, and it hurts the waterways.
So, the conclusion to this method of caring for our waterways is to simply not litter, but maybe even going a step further and taking a garbage bag with you. One of the worst items that gets thrown out is the fishing line, if you see it laying around do the right thing and take it out with you. Often, state wildlife departments have containers for fishing line on site.
Pack light from your vehicle to the water to make things easier to bring back with you. Think like a backpacker and do not carry anything you are not willing to pack back. I have always loved certain gear that accommodates this practice such as soft tackle boxes that have a shoulder strap.
4. Protect the Vegetation
On a flowing creek or a rushing river, you will always find abundant flora thriving along the water and this is particularly important to the fish and the ecosystem. You, the reader may know this already but for those who do not, fish get hot and seek shade.
Therefore, throwing a small fly along the shaded edges of a creek in the heat of the day works so well. Shade cast over anything reduces the temperature and it also applies to any type of water. If you have ever innertube floated a river you know what I mean.
Often, I’ll visit a fishing spot on my travels throughout Montana and see areas where people have knocked vegetation down to create access to fish the water. When fishing, the best thing you can do for the important flora is to respect the natural space of the river or lake you are fishing.
5. Pass on The Tradition
Why do we protect our waters? Well, the obvious reasons may be the environment, or the right to use the lands. But an equally large portion of the reasons to do good by the land is for our children. The fate of our fishing waters are not just in our hands, but those of our children as well.
Teaching your children how to fish and how to enjoy it is especially important, but you will also need to instill in them a respect for the land they enjoy. I often think about the joy and therapeutic gain I have received from this sport and am thankful to the land for allowing me this privilege of its use.
Children will carry the torch of conservation and they can only do that if we encourage the sense of stewardship within them. The truth is, being good to the fish and the rivers they live in is quite simple, and quite enjoyable in my opinion.
You can also do some little things to be kind to your fellow angler. One thing I do is I always release large trophy fish for the next guy to catch. The larger fish do not taste as good in my opinion, but they are fun to catch so I pass that along when I can.
Our gift is the fish that we catch and the waters we find them in. We have an obligation to pass that gift to another generation who are ready to protect as we have.
Practice this handful of ways you can make a huge difference for the fish and for the next guy out on the water and you will be doing your part. Try to support organizations that have these goals and interests at their core as well because there are many out there that work hard to protect the environment.
If you are caring for these things, then you have mine and the ethical anglers’ thanks and respect. Because protecting this gift we have is the noblest of causes and it makes for a wonderful gift to pass to our children.
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