|In the slot size and too big to keep anyway. Back you go. Lonnie Boyer photo|
No slogan could be more true. Each time we catch a fish, what we do next is going to make all the difference in the world.
- Handle it gently. Wet your hands or even better, wear a wet glove so as not to remove the protective coating on the fish's skin. Remove the hook quickly and place the fish gently back in the water rather than dropping or throwing it back. Support it on your open hand, if necessary, to keep it upright while it gets its bearings.
- Only keep northern pike beneath the slot size. Ontario regulations require all northern pike between 27.5 and 35.4 inches to be released. The reason is that this size group represents 2/3 of the spawners. However, just about all of the remaining spawners and the most critical ones to boot are those fish larger than 35.4 inches. The biggest fish produce the most eggs, period. It is absolutely senseless to keep them, especially when you consider they are also the worst fish to eat. They are the oldest and have bio-accumulated whatever heavy metals are in the environment. Such things are everywhere, even here.
- Only keep walleye beneath 18 inches. Ontario regulations allow you to keep one walleye larger than 18 inches but it is as senseless to keep them as it is for northern pike. Walleye begin to spawn at 18 inches. The bigger the fish, the more eggs it produces, period.
- Never cull fish. Culling is the act of trading a fish kept on a stringer or in a livewell for another. Studies have shown that fish kept in containment and then released often die later from shock. Culling is the act that so epitomizes greed to me. It is one of the reasons we provide burlap keep-sacks in our boats. Make a decision which fish to keep, put it in the wet bag and leave the bag in the bottom of the boat.
- Get a trophy replica rather than a skin-mount. If you want to commemorate the catching of a big fish, taxidermists today can create a fiberglass or carbon-fiber replica that is the exact size and image of your fish. Take a photo of the fish, measure its length and if possible, its girth, and release the fish. The replica will look better than the skin mount and will last forever whereas the skin mount will eventually deteriorate. The very best way to honour a big fish is to photograph it in the boat before you release it. This will have all the context of the occasion such as the background, the weather, equipment in the boat, etc. Here's where a GoPro camera mounted on, say the bow, would be invaluable. It could give you the entire event on video and would also show your fishing partner. You can make a still photo from the video and frame that for the office if you would like.
- Keep only the fish you need to eat. Let each person be fulfilled by catching his own fish. We are not doing anyone a favour by bringing into camp more fish than we can eat on the presumption that others are not going to be as good at catching fish as us.