While SCMO clearly supports catch and release, we recognize
and respect the right of others to have a different opinion.
The following article by Jess Thompson was posted in a fishing
newsgroup. It was not written about marlin or even offshore
fishing, rather about smaller freshwater species, so I have
not included the author's address in the hope of sparing him
any more abuse. Nonetheless, I felt it appropriate to reprint
here, since it demonstrates many of the points often used
to dismiss the catch and release ethic. The preamble was added
at the request of the author, who has softened his own stance
since the original publication of the article. Read with an
open mind and you may develop a better understanding of what
we are up against ...
To readers of CATCH AND EAT
The author wrote this article in part in reaction to venomous
messages sent to Jan Gunnar Furuly because Furuly posted
pictures of "dead fish" on his website; in part to support
those who now and then take home a fish to eat; in part
to oppose what in some instances seems like reckless and
indiscriminate release of caught fish.
Written in the heat of reaction, the author recognizes
that, if he had let it cool longer before exposing it, he
no doubt would have softened some of the more inflammatory
passages. He also wrote it in an innocent lack of awareness
that this issue generates such heat in so many places by
so many people. He has largely retracted that he slanted
the article "purposely to arouse debate." Much less did
he write it to provoke bitter argument or dissension.
He much prefers that all fisherpeople support fish, fishing,
and. . .each other. Your way, his way, her way, their way
-- isn't it all great? Isn't it all OUR WAY?
He has already read that he states the obvious; that the
article is too long; that it's full of overstatement; that
it's garbage; that he ought to be put in the corner with
"a lollipop," or "better yet, a dunce cap;" that he maybe
has a secret or ulterior motive as an anti-fisher or Native
American; and suchlike.
Please understand that its author, while he is old, he
is not too old to learn. Understand also that he had part
of his tongue in his cheek (along with his foot, as it turned
out) when he talked about "honoring" fish. He had and has
no desire to argue for animism or naturism, nor to re-institute
prehistoric or mystical rites, religions, or ceremonies,
but only to recognize that primary cultures practiced such
Please understand further that its author 1) likes to fish;
2)sees wisdom in this, that how you fish depends to a great
extent on where you fish; 3)sees wisdom in selective harvest,
bag limits, and in self-imposed catch limits (as against
unlimited catch and release); 4)urges, as at the end of
the article, the most careful handling of fish in the practice
of catch and release.
When you catch a fish, you honor it if you eat it.
Any fish that gets caught deserves to be eaten. It does
not deserve to be caught again and again. So-called "Trophy
Waters," "Quality Waters," where you must turn back the
fish you catch, are a misuse of words, a miscarriage.
For years we have all admired the prowess of Lee Wulff,
the highest of all high priests in the religion of Catch
and Release. Likewise, we all admire Trout Unlimited and
its heroic efforts to maintain habitat and fish restoration.
But...But...Lee Wulff's famous statement, taken up and
touted by Trout Unlimited, that, "A good gamefish is too
valuable to be caught only once," must be argued against.
It states purely the position and argument of Catch and
Release, and it's sucker bait. It plays into the hand of
the Anti-fishers. It denies our human nature, it denies
the nature of fishing, and too often, it fails in its own
Catch and Release, with its "quality," its "pure sport"
position, its "for fun only" or "for pictures only" attitude,
plays SQUARELY into the hands of the Anti-fishers and Anti-hunters
who would ban all fishing and hunting for whatever reason.
In many parts of the world, hatcheries plant fish. Everybody
calls it "Put-and-take" fishing. Catch and releasers practice
not put-and-take but take-and-put. And take-and-put, put,
put, put -- they wish. Too often it doesn't work.
Those who practice Catch and Release are not better sports.
They preen themselves; they see themselves as a higher form
of life; they preach, but do not practice a higher form
of sportsmanship. If you are a fly-only Purist because of
the joy or challenge and artistry of fly-fishing, fine;
but if you are a Purist/Snob, go home.
A fish that gets caught deserves to be eaten. It makes
good sense, and it is good sportsmanship. It plays fair
with the fish. It is quality fishing. The one who fishes
"Trophy Water" (even with fly-only) is not a higher form
of life, nor is the one who fishes downstream (even with
a worm) an inferior form.
Consider: In most instances, regulations state that you
must count fish you have caught and released as part of
your daily limit. If the limit is two salmon or five trout,
when you have caught your limit, you're supposed to quit.
Where's the sportsmanship (or the honesty) if you catch
and release fish by the hour?
Those who fry a couple of trout for breakfast over the
campfire stand higher than those who catch and turn back
eight or ten salmon in a day, and much higher than those
who brag of "releasing" fifty trout during an afternoon
hatch. It's time to speak up and say so.
Let me make a statement that is admittedly an overstatement,
made for debate: Catch and Release people ought to go home
and stay home. Either that, or they ought to fish in the
dark or out of sight somewhere. They give ammunition to
the Anti-fishers, and therefore ought to whisper their advice
and push their program in secret.
When I say that, I do not mean to insult you. I only suggest
that you, with the Anti-fishers and Anti-hunters have been
misled (or you are out to mislead people) and have ignored
a basic truth about life and about the human condition within
Life lives on life.
All living things are food. This fact is for many of us,
hard to accept, but we had best recognize it, get used to
it, and at last, honor it. Yes, honor it, and honor the
catch, like many primary cultures (as Joseph Campbell teaches
us) whose practice is to thank the fish or the deer that
they fetch home and put on the table. Thus, any fish that
gets caught deserves to be thanked as well as to be eaten.
The fisher man or woman deserves to eat it, and the fish
deserves to be eaten. If you catch it, eat it.
Eat it because its prey. The fish is prey. The duck is
prey. When you go into the field, the pheasant is prey.
The deer, the elk, the moose, are prey. Would you, if you
could, shoot a duck or a deer, just for fun, and then send
it on its way, just as you "play" at catching fish? Why
not then, invite some worms to practice, just for fun, on
eating, say, your leg, for a while? Give the worms some
fun, before, ultimately, as is the end for all of us, all
living things -- we all finish up under a tree somewhere.
Boys and girls, hard as it is to admit, we're all in this
business together. A vulture, maybe, is the honestest creature
For many generations, here in the Pacific Northwest, salmon
were classified as "Food Fish" and one did not even need
a license to take them. As food.
If you do not want to take the fish as food, if all you
want to do is to catch it, if you put it through the throes
of its struggle to keep from being eaten, and then you toss
it back, you might as well get a wind-up mechanical fish.
You only go through the motions. But the fish is not mechanical.
It's alive when you hook it, and if you throw it back, you
do an injustice to the fish. You waste your own and the
The fish bites because it thinks(?) it is about to get
something to eat. Or, it wants to protect its territory.
Or, okay, it's mad, angry. You've taunted it. In any case,
you have teased or tormented the fish until it takes. You
have fooled it. You have tricked it. Instead of the fish
getting something to eat, it is about to get eaten. But
-- in the practice of C & R, you have tormented if not tortured
the fish, and by turning it loose, you say, "All right,
I have set you loose so that I can torment you again." Once,
I say, is enough. Eat it. Be honest and eat it.
Take and eat is fully honest. A kid with a willow stick
and a can of worms and a stringer of fish is as honest as
anything on earth. All refinements of fishing, all methods
up to a $2,000 Orvis rod and a #18 midge or a $10,000 bass
boat and a 150 HP engine, go back to that picture. And when
the kid comes home with his catch, and eats it, helps feed
the family, he is doubly forthright, triply honest. He makes
Some want not a meal of a fish, but only a picture of a
fish -- to show the fish's beauty. Don't talk to me about
the beauty of the fish, the rainbow stripe, the pretty spots,
unless you intend to eat it. If you do, then, by all means,
pet it, stroke it, admire it, and yes, take a picture of
it, show it to others. But eat it. And then you are not
a mere photographer, a mere picture-taker.
The earliest hunting pictures made by humans, in the caves,
portray the hunt and the catch along with the handprint
if not the face of the hunters. And whether they made their
paintings to help produce a good hunt, to honor or appease
the animal's spirit, or for an initiation rite -- no matter.
The handprint shows that "I was here." Thirty thousand years
ago, "Kilroy was here." And it wasn't mere ego. Kilroy was
after food, not only sport.
Fishing or hunting is not first of all a sport, not first
of all a bit of play, like marbles or hopscotch or pinochle.
Fishing is first of all predation. It is a predatory activity.
That is the first and unalterable fact. The human animal
is a predator. Fishing, hunting, were first done to gain
something to eat; period. Catch and Release mocks this and
becomes a sham. Initially, fishing was not a game.
"Game" in its roots, means to leap, to jump, to spring
joyfully -- as early humans might have done when they got
some grub. Game is what you play with a ball and a stick,
or a hoop. Game is also outdoor stuff that you fetch home
in your gamebag or creel -- to eat.
Is it a game to go after a fish? Is it sport to stalk a
deer or to take a stand? To call in a turkey? Of course
it is. Somewhere along the line, away and away back, early
humans out for food must have decided, "Hey! This is fun!"
And so today. For many of us, simply to go and enjoy a
day outdoors gives us great fun, fish or no fish. It's the
ancient thrill of the hunt, the excitement of the chase.
You're using your skill as a predator; you match wits, so
to speak, when you go into the animal's territory where
you are not as much at home. The search itself gives you
And if the search results further in bagging the game,
taking the fish, that is a culmination. And when you take
and eat, you are not merely going through the motions of
the catch for no end except sport. If you do that, it is
only for your own entertainment, certainly not for the entertainment
of the fish. Rather, it's your entertainment at the fish's
expense. Turn it loose and you're asking the fish to pay
the price all over again.
To ask this of the fish seems cruel, whereas to take food
does not seem cruel. No more than when a lion takes a deer.
No one enjoys killing for its own sake. The nature programs
that show a bobcat running down a rabbit might make us wish
for the rabbit to escape. When caught, it might seem cruel
to us. But not to the bobcat. It is life. It is the bobcat's
nature. It does me no good to see a frog half way down a
snake's gullet, darting it's eyes around until it disappears.
But it does the snake good. It is the snake's nature.
Just so, it is our nature to take and eat a fish. I know,
we no longer have to fish to eat. We can buy soybeans at
the market. But it's nothing like the fun of a day outdoors.
Anti-hunters, Anti-fishers, those who want to "protect"
nature, who love nature and nature's balance (as if there
were such a thing), most often place and see humans as part
of nature. But as Anti-fishers they deny their own calling
and refuse to see life for what it is; refuse to see life
as a hunting proposition; life eating life. Even if it's
And at the same time as life eats life, life, particularly
human life, can and should honor all life.
Hemingway's "Old Man" said it exactly. Exactly: "Fish,
I love you, but I must kill you."
Much of the time, catch and release doesn't work. Fish
brought up from deep water, probably 20 feet or more, almost
always die. If you cut off the hook and leave it inside
fish, a third of them die. Mere hand-contact, holding a
big fish up against a jacket or raingear (for the picture),
often rubs the protective coating off the fish. Keeping
the fish out of the water more than about 15 seconds, often
kills the fish.
Thus, though C & R claims to love the fish more by turning
it loose, it often kills the fish anyhow. It fails to meet
its own goal. The fish dies slowly, and while it then feeds
crows or seagulls, it has not come to a swift end. To be
sure, the priests of C & R often attempt to teach how to
release properly, but this only shows that people often
do it wrong. C & R far too often either scars or kills the
You too have perhaps seen this scarring process in fishing
programs on national television where catchers of fish,
guides, "captains," and their customers, handle the fish
with obviously dry hands, hold it up for a picture, and
then, like some kind of tin saint, practice their religion,
coax the fish back to action, and piously let it go -- so
that they, or somebody else, can practice the mockery again,
asking the fish to go through its death struggle another
I've seen TV shows where the fish is "asked" (rather, "told")
to repeat this struggle, and put back, even though the fish
already bleeds from the gills. I've seen it done on salmon,
steelhead, rainbow trout, bass, catfish, and yes, walleyes,
and carp -- the last two, plenty good enough to eat (try
some smoked carp). Walleye taste as good as anything that
swims, but they are hardly a super "gamey" or fighting fish
(compare a three pound walleye with a three pound rainbow).
Catch and Release, with its sham, its posturing, its "pure
sportsmanship" thus plays exactly into the hands of the
Anti-fishers who would ban all fishing and hunting. The
Purists, the Trophy fishers, the Quality fishers, although
unwittingly, shake hands with them.
Catch and Release argues that the practice conserves the
fish population. Well. C & R argues especially that you
should put the big fish back. Okay, fish are cannibals.
Big fish eat little fish. Put the big one back and it eats
a bunch of little fish. Tell me how this helps the population.
The individual fisher or hunter never in the past hurt
the fish or duck population and doesn't today. But, if you
take away the wetlands, take away the duck's or the fish's
home, foul it, spoil it, clog the nurseries, silt up the
spawning beds, you wreck the population. Loss of habitat
wrecks it; it did, and does. Dams wreck it; they did, and
do. Commercial overfishing wrecks it; it did, and does.
The individual taker and eater, no; humans in general, yes.
At the same time, some 70 percent of every species that
has ever lived on this planet has disappeared long before
humans ever showed up. Does this mean we should not preserve
and protect, that we should not practice conservation? Of
course we should. We should preserve and protect all that
we can. But that does not mean to deny our nature and our
place in nature. If you want a stream to recover, shut it
down completely. To everybody; to C & R fishing, guides,
Indians, commercial fishing, everybody. Regain some real
I am not anti-profit, but it ought also to be said that
the profit motive lurks behind the promotion of C & R. We
know that profit is linked to commercial fishing, and that's
fine, except where it has been overdone. And then when the
point is reached where only a few fish exist it no longer
has the possibility of profit.
Promoted by guides and resorts, the profit motive also
often stands behind C & R. Guides, often, are among the
foremost preachers of "put it back." Many of them are ordained,
often self-ordained, priests of this new and false (if not
I have no major argument with guides. I admire their knowledge
and skill. They're usually the most knowledgeable. But if
a guide in one season takes a couple thousand steelhead
or several thousand salmon, or hundreds of limits of walleyes
or rainbow trout, even though its through the customers,
who then is the game hog? Who is "selling" fish? If you
want only a picture of a fish, who is "selling" fish? Sure,
the guide sells talent, skill, but in effect, the guide
sells fish. And what's more, the guide argues for the right
to sell the same fish over and over. Who is the game hog?
Certainly not the individual who takes home a fish or two,
honors it, and eats it.
Nor do I have much argument with those who use guides.
To use a guide is often the best way to go fishing for those
who can afford them -- if all you want out of fishing is
fish, or want only a picture of a fish -- want only to take
The same time, those who fish with guides acknowledge
first of all that they can't do it themselves (or they don't
have time to fish; they want fish quick, and they do have
money) So they hire a guide to do it for them; they go along
for the ride. This is not bad. Guides often do not fish
the fish, they fish the fisher. They tell them where to
put the bait, plug, or fly; how to hold the rod, when to
crank; they net the fish for them, and somebody takes a
picture. This neither is bad. But then they put the poor
fish back. This is bad. If you catch it, eat it; if the
guide catches it for you, eat it, for heaven's sake. It's
food, and it's food you're after.
So in sum, I would maintain your right to practice Catch
and Release. Don't stay home. Just don't use a hook. Since
C & R has some sham in it, some false front, stick with
it. Go all the way. Don't use a hook. Just pretend you're
fishing. Really go through the motions. Wave your rod around.
Enjoy the breeze and the waves and the birds and the sunshine.
Thank the fish also, that you pretend you have caught, as
even I have done in reality when I have released a grand
steelhead that I urged to go live a while yet -- urged it
under the prime if not the only valid reason to release
a fish -- to go spawn; certainly not merely so that the
fish could provide somebody's additional bit of entertainment.
But if you do use a hook, practice C & R by all the wise
rules of quick wet hands and careful revival. Just don't,
please, make a religion of it. Don't insult or force it
on those who take home a salmon to eat. Don't try to make
them feel cheap. They are as much a good sport as you are,
with the same enjoyment of the birds, the clouds, the wind,
and the waves.
When you catch a fish, you honor it if you eat it. Any
fish that gets caught deserves to be eaten.
In time we shall all go over the river and rest under the
shade of the trees.