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October 9

A shocking lack of fishing pic submissions may leave up graphically impaired, but fear not – we’ve got marlin news north and south, and the long-promised Release Rules Rant. It’s Thursday … it’s the Fishing News … let’s roll!

(cue theme music)

2014 has been a freak show on the water, so I guess it’s no real surprise if things are strange here, too. People traditionally send us their Release Submissions, Trip Reports and fishing pics, and they form the backbone of this report. Lately, however, it’s been like the stock market – way up one week and way down the next. This, I’m afraid, is a down week for pics, so I apologize for the monolithic look of just a bunch of text. Fortunately, it’s been an up week for release reports, and hey – wouldn’t you rather have dope than pics, anyway?

Calling Elvis …

In the mean time, here’s a nice shot of something seen far too seldom this season – a swordfish at the end of a line. In this case, the line belonged to Jeff Tom of BLACK FIN, who unfortunately lost the fish at the gaff.

This is the part of the offshore season I hate most. There are still marlin out there – and they’re still being caught – but the days are getting longer and the temperature lower. With each marlin caught you can’t help but wonder … “is this the last of the season”?

The fishing pressure was lower this week, but there were still a few marlin released – and I’m pretty sure none of them are the last. AHI NUI scored a triple-play Tuesday off Oceanside, with Mark Levine and Keegan Hicks converting both ends of a lure-bait double, and Levine backing it up with an additional baitfish later in the day. Yesterday, Kathy Ecklund of HOOKER released a marlin off Lover’s Cove just outside of Avalon. If my math is correct, that’s her eleventh release for the season. I’m also aware of one being released yesterday in the lee of San Clemente Island, but I don’t have details as yet.

At noon tomorrow, the folks overseeing the white sea bass grow out pens in Newport Beach will be releasing their latest fingerlings into the wild, where hopefully a large number of them will grow up to be big and healthy – and caught. The Newport pens are one of a handful of such rigs that dot the harbors up and down the coast, most often tended by volunteers from local fishing clubs.

One such setup is located in Marina Del Rey and is under the care of the Marina Del Rey Anglers. They’ve released nearly 100,000 WSB and have the lowest die-off rate of any of the Hubbs-supplied pens – a point of justifiable pride. Unfortunately, years of use and a recent relocation have taken their toll on the pens, which need to be rebuilt from the water up. The MDRA has turned to Crowdrise to help raise the funds needed to get these pens back in action for 2015. I encourage you to visit their fundraising page and consider helping this worthy cause.

I need to talk about where to go this weekend, how the weather might affect your fishing and what the latest SST charts have to say. But first …

We interrupt this Fishing News update to bring you the following rant:

Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, but I like rules. I like the idea that I can walk into any environment and, so long as I know the rules I know the situation.

Fishing has rules, of course, from bag limits to size restrictions to protected areas. In theory, these are all designed to preserve the fishery for future generations, although you’ll get a wide range of views on that. Most of these are species-specific, but there is one set of rules that all fishermen strive to adhere to – the Angling Regulations as set forth by the International Game Fish Association, or IGFA.

Before the IGFA was founded in the late 1930s, a number of fishing clubs crafted rules for ethical angling behavior, including the Tuna Club in Avalon, whose late 1890s rules set the standard for the later efforts by the IGFA and others. As stated by club founder Charles F. Holder, the rules were “designed to give the fish an even chance in the battle”. Once the IGFA was established and began to expand the angling rules set down before them, they grew to cover equipment regulations and record catch qualifications. But at the heart of the rules remained the Angling Regulations and the ethics associated with them.

I got something to say …

Over time, a problem developed with the IGFA Angling Regulations, and it grew with each passing year. In the mid-century environment in which the regulations were developed, catching a fish meant killing the fish. It wasn’t until much later that the release ethic began to develop in our sport, and when it did, the IGFA was regrettably silent. For clubs that followed the IGFA Angling Regulations, that left a vaccuum – one that was filled with various local rules and regulations that sought to define what it meant to achieve a “legal release” for the purpose of tournaments and records.

The IGFA eventually took on the challenge of developing universally accepted rules for the release of fish, and in February 2012, they released their Release Rules. At the same time, perhaps in tacit acknowledgment of the challenge they faced in trying to marry together many different release philosophies, they published a list of “recommendations for best practices for safe and ethical release of fish” – things they’d like to see anglers do, but not technically part of the rules. As a result, the actual rules as released are so watered down that they often make a bad situation worse than if they hadn’t existed at all.

The following is an actual example from earlier this year. No names, places or other identifying details, as technically no rules were broken. But, as was expressed by many at the time, a significant ethical challenge nonetheless …

A boat fishing in a tournament gets a hookup and calls it in. Within but a few minutes, the mate reaches out and grabs the leader, signifying a legal release per the IGFA Release Rules. The excited skipper called Tournament Control and announces their successful release.

Forty-five minutes later, a fellow competitor passes by the first boat and sees an angler fighting a marlin. Having heard nothing on the radio of a second hookup, they call the first boat to offer congratulations and support on their new fish. Not a new fish, the skipper tells him – they’re still fighting the first one.

Huh?

After the fact, the rest of the story came to light. During the fight, the mate did in fact grab the leader, but almost immediately the still-hot marlin ripped it out of his hand. It took nearly an hour of fighting to get it back to the boat before they got their first good look at it. When they did, they realized it was a really big fish – either a big striper or a small blue – and they changed their minds. Away goes the tag stick and out comes the gaffs, and they attempt to take the fish. Unfortunately, at some point in the attempt the line breaks and the marlin – quite possible grievously injured – escapes. Nevertheless, they take credit for their IGFA legal release.

As I see it, there are two fundamental errors in the IGFA Release Rules as written – one of commission and one of omission. The first error was in making it far too easy to declare a “legal release”; the way the rules are written, the mate didn’t need to control or even touch the leader – just be “able” to grab the leader. So, in theory, if could simply get close to the leader, the release could be declared. And while the fish might have been “released”, the next hour’s activity showed that it was never conquered.

I understand why they might have set the bar so low. We’ve all seen the reports in recent years coming out of the marlin grounds of Mexico and sailfish grounds of Central America, where literally scores of marlin are released by a hardworking crew in a single day. While we all respect the raw numbers, I think we also know that few if any of those fish were genuinely bested – the sheer numbers tell us that there simply isn’t time to do much more than hook, grab and pop.

These accomplishments were celebrated in print and across the Internet, and widely acclaimed. I’m sure that the IGFA knew full well that if they were to create rules that were too stringent, such events would be seen in a very harsh light as being far outside the newly-defined bounds of ethical fishing. But by making the rules so easy to achieve, they created a disconnect between the act of releasing the fish and what constitutes a “legal release” – a disconnect that added up to an hour in our example.

The second error was in not addressing the intent of the crew with regards to the dispositioning of their catch. Most of the club rules in place in the past included a requirement to state your intention with regards to the catch – either you plan to release or you plan to kill. It wasn’t cast in concrete, of course – if you had planned to release, but saw it was a big fish, you might change your mind; even in the money tournaments with a minimum weight limit, a boat could opt to release a fish destined for the gaff once they understood it was underweight. But you never had the option to switch to the other position after failing to execute – if you messed up the gaff job, you lost the fish. You didn’t have the option to fall back to the release, any more than you did if you failed to resuscitate the fish and it died.

To me, it all comes down to respect – respect for the act of releasing a marlin. More than once, I’ve described catching a marlin to people outside the sport. They would excitedly ask how much it weighed, and when I said I released it, you could practically see them deflate, as if by releasing the marlin I’d only accomplished part of the job. That demonstrated what I believe is a key point – if you want a released marlin to be seen as an equal accomplishment as boating one, the act of the release must be as difficult and demanding as the act of gaffing one.

So where does that leave us? We have a set of rules, from an organization we all look to for leadership, but those rules, when followed to the letter of the law, generate a substandard result. I presume that the current rules, being the first version, are subject to revision. So, here are my revisions:

  1. Forget swivel to the tip or wind-on on the reel – the clock stops and the release is declared only once the mate has the leader in his hand and the fish under control boat side. I don’t care how large the marlin might be – at some point, in order to take credit for a catch, you must demonstrate that you have beaten the fish. If you cannot bring the fish to the boat in a way that allows the mate to take control of the leader and the fish, how can you claim to have defeated it?
  2.  

  3. If, after the mate grasps the leader, the line parts, the release is successful only if the mate retains a portion of the leader. This is a little tricky, because it challenges the ethics of all involved. There could be a temptation, especially on a baitfish, to perform the kind of long-distance release once popular in tournament fishing. But ethics is at the heart of all forms of release fishing, and if I can’t trust you on the water, how can I trust you in life?
  4.  

  5. At some point prior to the mate reaching for the leader, the intention of disposition must be declared – take or release. Once the mate touches the leader, that intention cannot be changed. Again, this is an ethical challenge, as you might be be making the declaration to no one other than your crew. This rule gives the angler ample opportunity to view the fish and affirm or reverse their declaration, but once the leader is touches, you are committed – there is no going back.

Those are the three changes I would make to the existing IGFA Release Rules to move them in the right direction and eliminate some of the issues that exist today. But one could argue that even with these changes, releasing a marlin is still less demanding or technically challenging than boating one. But there are additional requirements that could bring the two closer:

  • Hook Removal – removing the hook is not only the right (and cost-effective, in the case of a lure) thing to do, but it demands intimate contact with the fish – something you can’t do if you haven’t conquered the beast. Credit is given for the release if the hook cannot be retrieve but the leader is properly cut as close to the hook as possible.
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  • Tag Insertion – again, there is an intimacy and skill level required to achieve this that in many ways mimics the act of gaffing, and we all get the benefit of the science generated.

I recognize that these last two ideas will be seen by many as beyond reasonable for the release declaration, and I accept that. However, they are valid discussion points for a discussion that needs to happen.

In an earlier update, I intimated my belief that the Tuna Club was the proper organization to take up the fight for these modified release rules. I am not a TC member, but I have a great deal of respect for the Club and their role in the establishment of the angling ethics that we continue to follow today. This would be a wonderful opportunity for the Club to reclaim its rightful place as a leader in the realm of angling ethics, and I encourage any Tuna Club members who read this to take the idea to the Club membership.

And if you won’t, I’m going after the Balboa Angling Club next … ;-)

Seriously … after all that, you think I still have something left to talk about sea surface temperatures or where the fish might be? Dude, you’re dreaming – you’re on your own. Of course, if you see anything, I want to hear about it … :D

And I really want to hear what you think of the Release Rules Rant …

7 Years Ago …

October 8, 2007

“It’s not that the wind is blowin’ … it’s what the wind is blowin’.”

- Ron White

The wind was a-blowin’ here at the Home Office … did the marlin fishing blow as well? And why are they still catching tuna – don’t they migrate? Must be time for the Fishing News …

(cue theme music)

With the end of the local tourney season, the money boats have headed south or headed home. That leaves only the hard-asses … er, hard-heads … to try and find the fish. Always interesting to see how the fleet does once most of the talent has fled …

Yeah, that’s right – no Thursday report again. Hey, when no one is filing Trip Reports and I’m not hearing of much action, I figure I might as well save the words …

The Home Office staff wants to send along their best wishes to a friend of SCMO who’s on the mend. Ron Johnson, captain of SHOWDOWN, is recovering from heart surgery having had a couple of arteries cleaned out. Like too many of us, he waited until he felt the pain before finally going to the doctor – and they sent him straight to surgery. A lesson for us all. Ron’s the one who tagged me as “Ol’ Dot Com” – a much better name than some that were suggested by others in the fleet – so he’ll always have a seat at our table. Get well soon, Ron!

Oh yeah … the fishing. It’s not that there are no marlin out there any more – heck, WAIT-N-SEA got three last week working outside the 182. It’s just that there 1) aren’t a lot of them, 2) aren’t many boats out there to find them and 3) they aren’t biting much. But they are being seen. Probably the most action is happening around the 182 – after all, everyone loves to fish where the fish were, rather than finding out where the fish are. But marlin were also seen as far north as the Avalon Bank, and boats chasing the still-present tuna reported seeing and/or catching marlin as incidental catch among the tuna – just like the beginning of the season all over again!

In addition to the marlin action on the 182, that’s been a good spot for yellowfin tuna as well. There’s a bizarre mix out there right now, as both warm water and cold water tuna are available – long after both should have long since departed. OF course, that could also explain why it’s been such a crappy marlin year – good tuna years usually are, since the conditions each prefer are pretty much mutually exclusive. Of course, it could also be all those Mexican boats that caught 10,000 marlin each …

As the season winds down, there will inevitably be a last report. Sometimes, I’ll take the time to write a dedicated final report, but sometimes the season just peters out and I realize that the last report is really the last report. So let me take a moment here to thank all of you for your continued support. The emails, the Trip Reports, the Release Reports – they all help me stitch this together, and the thank-you messages keep it all going. Lord willing, we’ll do this all again next season.

3 Comments

  1. Bruce Wilkinson says:

    I really like your ideas. I think we all see too many videos with boats backing down, water coming in over the transom and the deckhand cuts the leader 15 feet from the fish. So a release, but did the angler really beat the fish or the boat just got close enough to cut the leader. With lures the hook should always we removed or cut close to keep the fish healthy.

    I also feel fisherman need to think more about their leaders. All my lures have about 20 feet of 300 Lb. test. I use 300 Lb. so when the fish is close enough to leader it can be done quick. For bait I use about 3 feet of 130 Lb. then a swivel to 10 to 15 feet of 80 Lb. leader. We get the fish in quick and remove the hook.

    One other point that pisses me off is our “Sport fisherman” that don’t give the fish a chance, like 80 Lb. test to catch a 100 Lb. fish, not much of a “Sport Fisherman”.

  2. Stan, I totally agree with all you said regarding marlin releases and welcome your ideas. I’d love to add a couple ideas if I may, with explanation.

    1. Marlin hooked on bait (not jig) with light leaders may be released with the leader broken (in hand) when the leader strength is less than the estimated size of the marlin. Reason for this is the added skill level required to hook a marlin on bait, and the lighter gear required to do so effectively. Also for the best interest of the well being of the fish and an increased possibility for it to survive the ordeal. Often we fish 90# Fluorocarbon to a circle (not stainless) hook, and bringing the fish along side the boat to remove the hook requires a completely exhausted fish. There have been times in recent years when local crews fished 60# Fluorocarbon in feeder shows after baiting fish after fish and not getting a bite. There is some real talent involved here, getting the bite and angling the fish to where a mate can grab a leader (and possibly tag the fish). I feel breaking the leader at the first possible chance is in the fish’s best interest for survival. That is the whole idea of releasing the marlin, correct?

    2. Its my opinion that the IGFA might consider making different sets of rules for the East and West coasts. The angling styles are SO different, it requires different points of view. Huge yellowfin tuna skillfully hooked from an anchored boat and battled without chasing the fish with the boat is scrutinized by the IGFA, always has been. The rod can’t touch the rail, a deckhand can’t grab the rod the help get the line around the anchor. I do and always have strongly disagreed with that scrutiny for records. On the East Coast the fish is fought from a chair in a boat chasing the fish. How does the chair not equal the rail of a sportboat? What angling skills are actually involved when a highly trained, 6 figure Captain tactfully backs a multi million dollar fish chasing machine to where a team of mates can grab a leader and gaff that fish? I have huge respect for those operations, I have seen them in action first hand and let me tell you, its awe inspiring. Its just very different than what we do here with live bait and anchored sportboats. That may not be marlin specific as an example, its just the clearest way I can articulate the “East Coast influence” of the IGFA.

    Stan, your rant is well timed and thoughtfully written. I appreciate the time and effort you put into SCMO, its a must read for me each and every year when I begin to get excited for our So. Cal. marlin season. Thanks for all you do.

  3. Steve Mras says:

    Love this blog post Stan as it’s spot on.

    I guess I was the braver one to take it up on the Googan Forum, quite possibly the inspiration for this blog?????

    BiggestT
    Well-Known “Member”
    Location:
    Fullerton
    Name:
    SM
    Boat:
    Salsipuedes & Czech Mate

    Occupation:
    Big Fish
    TUNAGUY664 said: ↑
    Just talked to Ken. Fish is dogging them now. Hooked on a KK Pono skipjack lure. They have had it to leader twice so it will count as a release no matter what.
    Really? Those are interesting rules. Most SoCal Clubs count it as a release if the wireman was holding the leader while it was released. Merely touching the leader and the fish taking off on another run and counting that is stretching it a bit. Release implies the fish was controlled and release. Subsequent fighting on the fish negates that. I know such a release would not be counted in the DAC.

    Glad to see that they intend to release it.
    BiggestT, Sep 14, 2014 EditReport#14ReplyQuote

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    BiggestT
    Well-Known “Member”
    Location:
    Fullerton
    Name:
    SM
    Boat:
    Salsipuedes & Czech Mate

    Occupation:
    Big Fish
    Now Voyager said: ↑
    IGFA rules are if the leader is touched by the mate or the leader touches or goes past the rod tip (in the case of a wind on leader), it is an official catch.
    Yeah I see the IGFA added a release definition to their rules.

    http://www.igfa.org/images/uploads/files/Updated Rules 2014_English_June162014b.pdf

    Having experience with the IGFA’s “between the lines” interpretations, I’m pretty sure if you pressed them on the facts described here where the fish took off after touching the leader and they continued the fight, the initial “releases” would not be deemed an official release.

    In the end the fish broke off at leader, so this whole discussion is moot anyway.

    Here’s an excerpt on a possible blue our Club is counting as a release, but it’s not clear whether the captain is considering it a release:

    “I tried to take some pictures but fish was hot at the boat and Dave had leader at rod tip. Grab the leader, only about 8-10 feet from the boat. Fish goes nuts vertical off transom, exciting, then dives. We were going to cut it off but running gear did that for us. I remember from the Masters, not to let the leader go. But should have and brought him in again, deep groves in my hands holding on and not letting go. Strong fish & fun……It didn’t look like a stripper to me and Dave ID it as a Blue about 250-275lbs. Tried to take some pics but phone didn’t get any good ones underwater & it never settled down enough to hold it.”

    Since it was not a tournament and I’m not in competition with the captain and think highly of him, I could care less how they score. Just happy he got a local shot on a really good fish.

    Steve