March 16th, 2009

Using Release Tools
By James Castwell


Just a few things to think about. First off, I am guilty of fish damage or abuse or what ever you might name it. I was fishing for salmon from a beach and connected with a feisty, ten pound silver coho. Using an eight weight, I had plenty of muscle to bring the fish in without too much fuss.

The fish came to the gravel topped beach a bit too quickly though and I did not have him tired out enough. I normally bring the fish very close to the waters edge, then holding my rod far off and high to my right side, I step around behind (I'm in deeper water than he is at this time) and lead him to the very edge of the beach. Still holding my rod off to my right and my rod arm straight, I reach under the fish with my left hand or take hold of the fly, which ever is appropriate for the moment.

This fish waggled straight up on to the beach. Then he started flopping and that drove him farther inshore. Not a good thing. Still attached to the fly, I tried to turn his head toward the water so his gyrations might get him back in the Pacific Ocean. Eventually he did. I played him some and then as he wore down more, re-landed and released him with no problems. Hot fish, green fish, name it what you chose, it can happen. I am sure the event annoyed him greatly and may have spoiled his afternoon. Okey, it's a blood sport. Sometimes it's hard for me to really grasp. I try but fail often.

Here's my problem. I do not know which is the best for the fish and I have never found anyone who could answer this to my satisfaction, so I just land them as best as I can.

Which is best? Fight the fish hard. Horse him in, thrashing and splashing all over the place, swoop a net under it and heave it up and out, landing him as fast as possible, or to play him slowly and nag him gently to within reach and then slide the hook out with him hardly noticing it?

The key words above were of course, 'fight' and 'play.' Some fly fishermen believe that it is the best for the fish and causes less injury to land him very aggressively. Using as heavy a leader as possible, get it over with almost before it starts. I'm thinking of getting a bass up on top of the lily pads and skittering him to the boat type of scenario here. Should this be the way all the time, no matter what the fish or situations are?

Others prefer to simply try to keep connected with the fish and without causing him to go into apoplexy, just tire him out enough to turn him loose in a gentlemanly fashion. And yet others try to find some area in between each of these methods. I lean to the side that does not 'rip the lips off' but rather gently, although it takes longer, wears the fish out enough that I can carefully un-hook him.

So where does all this lead us? Whether or not to use any of the various release tools available. Why should there be any question on that? Before I get in to really deep water here, let me say that this is only a question, I do not have any answers, only a few thoughts I have come across.

Let's say you are landing a ten pound coho salmon. Water up to your waist. The fish has been tired out for the most part, may still be hot but he is at hand. You slide your release down the leader and unhook him and off he goes. Swell as far as I can see. What happens though if just as you are going to release him, he heads out on another run? A few minutes later you have him back in, but now he is lolling a bit on his side, way too much of his belly showing. Now you slip the release tool down again and instantly he is unhooked and gone.

Drifting slowly away with the tide. Question. Did using the tool keep you from holding him and reviving him until he got his breath back? Possible? Ever happen to you? Ever happen to anyone? We each have our answers to those thoughts.

I think my point here today is to let each of us try to keep these things in mind. As often as the release tool may be just the right thing at the right time, it may be just the wrong thing too. It is entirely possible to, in the heat of the moment, in trying to do the right thing, actually kill the fish. Gives a whole new meaning to the expression, "Killing with kindness." ~ James Castwell

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Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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