Catch and Released
We at Einarsson Fly Fishing feel strongly about the positive effect on releasing salmon to spawn after being catched by a fly fishermen.
Below is an excellent article on the topic by the renowned fly fishermen Vigfus Orrason.
Catch and Release discussion document
In recent years these spring fish, as anglers call them, have largely disappeared from many rivers. As a result many fishermen now return all the multi-sea winter fish they catch though growing numbers of anglers release every salmon, large and small, that they land. In England, for example, nearly half the salmon of all sizes caught by anglers are safely returned to the rivers.
Salmon fishing enthusiasts who promote catch-and-release do so because they know that stocks of wild Atlantic salmon are now very frail. They want to see a new management approach applied to the stocks that remain, based on a belief that Nature must be respected and always given the benefit of the doubt.
Landowners and anglers want to see increased wild salmon catches. This must also be the aim of all those who manage salmon angling. Managers must realise that the long term interests of the wild stocks call for a restrained harvesting policy. While it is true that healthy wild salmon stocks benefit the whole economy it is the people who would gain most from greater numbers of fish --- the anglers and owners of fishing rights - who must lead the battle for increased natural spawning and better angling catches.
Everyone involved with salmon in both the private and public sectors can easily and effectively make a difference by encouraging catch-and release. The aim is to reduce the killing of salmon while preserving the valuable income that angling earns for rural communities. Catch-and-release allows anglers to enjoy all the excitement and satisfaction of salmon fishing: -- the search for the salmon, the skill that entices the fish to take a fly and the battle to bring it to hand.
With salmon stocks at such a low ebb, is it not better to release the fish safely and take the memories home instead of a dead fish? The more anglers who adopt catch-and-release the greater the chance of fellow fishermen following their example and of an increase in precious spawning stocks.
Research Shows that Catch & Release Really Works
As the popularity of catch-and-release has grown, research on its effectiveness has also been undertaken. It is surprising that, in effect, there had been almost no scientific studies on catch-and-release of Atlantic salmon until the ground-breaking work in the mid-1990s by Dr. Alex Bielak and his colleagues, Bruce Tufts and Kevin Davidson, with a variety of partners. Their work (together with an important review of the evolution of catch-and-release of salmon) and results are summarised respectively in (a) Bielak and Tufts , Wild Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon Vol 2, #3, 1995 and (b) Tufts, Davidson and Bielak 'Biological Implications of Catch and Release Angling of Atlantic Salmon. 1998'.
This suite of studies was followed by work in Russia by Whoriskey, Prusov and Crabbe (2000). 'Evaluation of the effects of catch-and-release angling on the Atlantic Salmon (Salmo Salar) on the Ponoi River, Kola Peninsular, Russian Federation.' F.G. Whoriskey, S Prusov, S Crabbe, Ecology of Freshwater Fish 2000. 9: 118-125.
These studies confirmed that catch-and-release is an effective tool in the enhancement of wild salmon stocks and showed that the vast majority of salmon probably survive to spawn after being freed. In the Russian study it was found that the fish had high rates of survival. It also established that anglers recaptured a significant proportion of these fish after their original release.
It was found that the salmon not only survives the ordeal of being caught but can regain full strength in less than 24 hours. So, providing the fish is properly released after being landed, there is no reason why we should not enjoy the delight of catching a healthy adversary, even if that fish is being played by an angler for a second or a third time.
There are some conditions, however, when the survival rate is not quite as high - e.g. in very soft water, in water temperatures exceeding 22°C or if the salmon is very fresh run. Even under these conditions the vast majority of salmon probably survive to spawn. Contrary to what most fishermen would imagine, playing a fish has less effect on the bigger salmon than on smaller ones despite the longer time it takes to play a large fish to exhaustion.
It has been argued that catch-and-release does not help fresh-run salmon early in the season because they are too delicate and the few that would survive the strain are likely to be caught again later, further increasing the odds against their survival. The research showed, however, that most of these fish actually do survive and spawn, even if they are unlucky enough to be caught several times! True, not all of them survive, but the fact remains that the salmon that is caught and killed can never spawn, no matter whether it is taken in spring, summer or autumn.
All serious studies support the findings of the research we have quoted. That should not really come as a surprise to anyone involved with salmon. If they think about it they will realise that the Atlantic salmon has evolved particularly well to withstand the tremendous physical strain of its long and arduous journey between its feeding and spawning grounds.
'Coffee House' topics on Genetics
So it is now known that a salmon that has been caught and released is just as likely to be caught again as any other salmon. This means that catch-and-release undoubtedly increases sport and the chances of an angler catching a fish, particularly in late season. It has also been shown that catch-and-release increases the numbers of spawners and the production of juveniles.
But what does an increased wild juvenile population mean for salmon stocks in the long run? Does it really produce more adult salmon? After all, a river had only a limited capacity to produce smolts. The real danger to future stocks comes when there are only a few individuals struggling to survive. Then even the weaker ones may reach smolthood and subsequently return to undermine the genetic vigour of a stock. Competition between many individuals helps ensure that only the fittest survive.
The collapse of spring fishing could well be a good example of how fishing is connected to the genetic makeup of salmon stocks. Spring salmon have genetic tendencies to run in the spring and not in summer or autumn. They must endure a much longer fishing season than their late-run relatives. They suffer more casualties if the prevailing practice on a river is to knock them on the head when caught. The resulting genetic change could be evident in the collapse of spring fishing in all salmon fishing countries.
In most rivers the very biggest fish - the ones that hardly exist any more except in stories of past glories - are usually running for a second, third or even fourth time! Perhaps if they are allowed to do that without being killed by short-sighted anglers the fisherman of today and his compatriot in the future might be able to tell of their own epic battles with giant fish.
Other Conservations Means
On its own, catch-and-release will never restore wild salmon stocks to their former glory. Pollution and other problems created by man need to be tackled and salmon habitat can be further improved in many ways. Such projects, however, are time-consuming and costly. Catch-and-release, on the other hand, costs nothing and has an immediate impact on catches and spawning. It is the single most effective thing an angler can do to help the wild salmon stocks of the river he or she fishes.
The cautious and controlled injection of juveniles in uninhabited areas and the release of smolts that have not competed with the wild population of a river can enhance wild stocks and reduce natural fluctuations. Salmon of farmed origin, however, can scarcely match the genetic makeup of their wild cousins, even if their lineage is entirely from their native river. The quantum leap in modern genetics has not yet brought man to the point where he can outsmart Nature and choose the right genetic makeup to suit different environmental factors. Nature alone can nominate the most qualified contestants in the survival race. She selects the happy few and sacrifices the rest.
What Is the Best Way to Release a Salmon?
An angler needs to treat a salmon carefully to optimise the good results of catch-and-release. It is best to use smaller flies though lures that are too small can be hard to get out of the mouth of the fish. Ideally, the flies should have single or double hooks with no barbs. The most important factor is the handling of the fish. The gills should never be touched and the fish's contact with air should be kept to an absolute minimum.
It is best to use a net and never lift the fish out of the water at all. Only nets with knotless meshes should be used. Finally, before the angler releases the fish, he or she must be sure it has recovered enough strength to keep its balance in the water. Often the fisherman needs to hold the fish facing upstream for a little while until it has renewed the oxygen supply in its system. The survival rate is very high even when these directions are not completely followed but sticking rigidly to the rules can raise the survival rate to almost 100%.
The Best of Angling
In the past, anglers for game fish invariably killed their prey. To a non-fisherman, setting the prey free might seem odd at first. Why catch it in the first place? But anglers enjoy the challenge of outwitting a fish and they need their sport. As catches of wild salmon keep falling, however, they are beginning to see the necessity for much stricter limits on the number of salmon that are harvested.
In the year 2000 42.5% of salmon caught in England and Wales were released again. Last year the number rose slightly to 42.7%. The official figures also show that anglers in Southern England, where salmon stocks have been hit hardest by the decline returned no less than 98% of their salmon last year. (I'VE INSERTED THESE FIGURES FROM THE 2001 CEFAS REPORT)
Anglers who want to practice their sport for years to come need to adopt this increasingly-accepted approach. This way they can have their cake and eat it. It is a system in which everybody gains. Perhaps the day will come when wild salmon stocks eventually rise back to their former abundance and can be safely harvested at today's rate. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen in the near future, especially when the wild salmon faces so many threats.
We anglers no longer need to fish to put food on our tables. What we want to experience is a duel with one of Nature's wonderful creatures. Like the fencing champion, we can do all that and enjoy it fully without our opponent having to die. We are showing the fallen opponent respect and granting him his life. Far from diminishing the thrill of the battle or the joy of victory it is one of the most satisfying acts that I know.
Catch-and-release increases catches and more anglers return home with a smile on their face. By practising catch-and-release we help the wild salmon to survive our troubled times. And we can still enjoy all the wonder and thrills of salmon angling!
Vigfus Orrason, Salmon Angler
*Republished by author
permission from the Silver fly fishing magazine.