How To Fish Stillwaters

October 6th, 2003

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher

Those Wonderful (?) TV Fishing Shows

By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

During those occasions each season when weather conditions preclude spending time in piscatorial pursuits, I spend a great many hours at my fly tying vise, filling orders that have fallen prey to previous days then the weather was fit "only" for fishing. In order to make these production hours less like work, even pleasurable, I watch hunting and fishing shows on televison as I fill my orders.

While I do further my angling education, to some extent, some of the time, I am often disappointed with the shows on the outdoors channels. I won't say I'm necessarily turned off by southern accents, certainly not feminine southern accents, but the macho male TV conversation does wear a bit thin. I don't know that a prerequisite to hosting a TV fishing show, is being reared south of the Mason-Dixon line, but from the number of "ya-alls" you hear on TV fishing shows, I suspect it might be.

Another aspect of the training necessary to host fishing shows, seems to be learning how many times per minute the on-camera experts can repeat stimulating phrases like: "Golllly Bubba! This danged fish is a reaaaaal haaawwgg!" Or repeating over and over and over, how big a fish (seems to be).

And as much as some of these experts seem to know about fish, they often have a difficult time estimating fish weights. I've been in front of a television camera enough times to know it does add pounds to any subject (especially me); but adding an obvious 20- to 30-percent to every on-camera fish becomes ridiculous after a while.

Other Pet Peeves ABout TV Fishing Shows

When filming a bass tournament, the contestants regularly skip bass along the surface of a lake; bounce them off the side or the bottom of the boat; weigh them on electronic scales; tag them with color coded mouth tags; drop them into live-wells and let them swim around in a tiny compartment with several other fish; spend several precious minutes weighing them (in plastic bags) in front of a cheering audience; eventually releasing them back into the lake.

Do they all survive? Many experts believe a high percentage do not. In fact there is a growing sentiment among tournament bass fishermen towards pure catch-and-release tournaments, where fish are measured (length and girth) by on-board tournament officials, then immediately released. I for one, applaud the idea. I don't think there's any question but that there will be a better survival rate in pure catch-and-release tournaments.

Television shows that do not involve tournament fishing, also frequently reveal poor catch-and-release techniques. I watched a show recently, that featured a big name west coast fly fisherman, where three to five pound rainbow trout were over-played on light tackle, kept in the air far too long during photo sessions, and released in what appeared to be an overly stressed condition. All in the name of TV entertainment.

Is Ultra-light Tackle More Sporting?

There also seems to be a fixation among many TV fishing show hosts, that they have to plug ultra-light fishing tackle as "more sporting." Nothing could be further f rom the truth. Legendary Ted Trueblood once chastised me rather severely (in a 2-page letter) for authoring a column where I described hooking and landing a Weiser River (Idaho) steelhead on 2-pound monofilament. It had taken me an hour to land the fish.

"The real sportsman," Ted told me, "uses tackle heavy enough to quickly bring his fish to the net, especially if he intends to release them alive."

Trueblood's formula was quite simple. He believed we should always use the heaviest monofilament we can get away with. Over-playing a fish builds up lactic acid in it's system, and although the fish might seem in good condition when we release it, might also swim off and die hours or days later. "Top anglers," Ted told me, "become adept at quickly netting large fish, and releasing them without touching them. Too much air time is bad for any fish species."

Ted was ahead of his time. Queen's University in Ontario, Canada recently completed a study on the mortality of rainbow trout which were exposed to air after exhaustive exercise. The study shows "in both commercial and recreational fisheries, exhaustive exercise is often followed by a brief period of air exposure prior to release. During this time, the gills' delicate lamellae will collapse and gas may be largely inhibited."

The study showed that even though fish exposed to air for 60 seconds, initially appeared to be returning to normal, they often died, usually between four and 12 hours later. This 'delayed mortality' has been observed by other investigators and, in the wild, could give the false impression that released fish always survive."

Only 28 percent of those fish which were exposed to air for 60 seconds after exercise survived for the next 12 hours as compared to 88 percent of those fish which were only exercised and not exposed to air.

When fish were exposed to the air for 30 seconds, survival rate was 63 percent.

Even the time-honored technique of grasping a black bass by the lower jaw, to paralyze it so it won't wiggle too much, is now being questioned. I read a report recently that suggested the technique can severely damage larger fish, particularly when show-offs lift them to shoulder heights for the camera. In my opinion catch-and-release fishermen should all carry release/type nets, with cotton bags- not nylon, and learn to use them. Hooks should be removed from fish with hemostats or long nosed pliers and fish should be handled as little as possible.

Having been involved in TV production a few times, I'm aware that things are done in front of a camera that would never be done in "real life." But if the purpose of these shows is to educate as well as entertain the viewing public, much of the time they are doing a pretty poor job. ~ Marv

About Marv

Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West, The Successful Angler's Journal, More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from Marv. You can reach Marv by email at or by phone: 208-322-5760.

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