Here’s something that probably won’t surprise you: I love fish.
You probably guessed that I love catching fish. But my connection to our finned friends runs deeper than that. Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved learning everything I could about fish. One of my first books was a “Fishes of the World” field guide that I literally wore the cover off. Saltwater or freshwater, big or small, I have always been fascinated by fish.
As anglers, I believe it’s our responsibility to treat fish, and all wildlife that crosses our path, with respect. Education plays a big role — the more we know about fish and their behavior, the easier it is to limit our impact on them while continuing to enjoy a great hobby and bring home fresh, healthy meals from time to time.
Here are some tips I have gleaned from books, magazines and hands-on experience. It’s not meant to be a soapbox — think of it more as a friendly knowledge drop from a certified fish nerd.
Prior to fishing, make sure you know the rules. If fish are in their spawning season, be careful not to disturb nests and practice catch-and-release to preserve the next generation. If you aren’t planning to keep your catch, avoid using natural baits that more often result in swallowed hooks. And be sure to leave your fishing spot better than you found it by packing out your garbage.
An unexpected lip piercing might be unpleasant, but there are steps we can take to make sure the fish we catch are otherwise unharmed. Fish with proper line and tackle to avoid fighting fish to exhaustion — especially during hot weather. Artificial lures with barbless hooks are best for catch-and-release fishing. And a rubber net is a great way to gently land a fish and minimize its time out of water.
While catching a big fish is always a thrill, watching them swim away healthy is equally rewarding. When handling a fish, always use wet hands and avoid touching the eyes or gills. For bass, crappie and perch, grabbing the fish by the lower lip while supporting its weight with your other hand makes it safe and easy to remove your hook and snap a quick picture. For trout, salmon, walleye and catfish, hold the fish firmly around the tail and use your other hand to support its weight without squeezing the rib cage. When you’re ready to release your fish, hold it in the water until it swims away. If it is slow to recover, gently move it back and forth to help pass oxygen through the gills.
Sustainable harvest is a healthy and delicious way to supplement your diet. Always observe bag limits and only keep what you intend to eat. And be sure to humanely kill the fish you harvest — a quick, firm blow to the base of the skull is the best way to go. It may seem brutal, but it’s much better than letting the fish slowly suffocate in a plastic bag or cooler.
Being good stewards of our fisheries will ensure plentiful fish and happy anglers for many years to come. Together, we can help keep Idaho’s waters productive and healthy. Tight lines!