On the Hook: Catch and release – something to consider

Bill Walsh
Capt. John Brossard submitted this photo of Jack, Barb and Jack with a black tip shark caught off Goodland. Using mullet for bait. It was caught, tagged and released.

Over the centuries, those that have extolled the virtues of sportfishing have acclaimed the associated virtues of just being on the water and allowing the tranquility, beauty and enchantment to soak in, as reward.

Being out there in the calm (usually) is the ultimate respite from the pressures and stress of modern life. With a rod in hand at the time, your everyday cares are transferred into how to trick this piscatorial resident, with the brain the size of a peanut, into feeding on your dangling bait.

Maybe the modern focus on conflict and self-centered rightness on issues has had impact on those historic values. And, as you know from the daily recitation of world events, there certainly is evidence that it has been altered. And from a charter captain’s perspective that also shows evidence in this “sport” of fishing.

For more who breach the sportfishing domain today, tranquility and peace has been displaced with “what were your results” “how many filets did you bring home.”

Suppose for a moment, that there was a total closure on capture of our piscatorial brethren; how would that play out?

There was a trip that we ran a few months back that might give a glimpse of the paranoia for sportfishing result has oriented into melt down and then to a conditional conclusion. Here it is!

One afternoon, back then, I was cleaning a catch for a family that had just concluded a morning backwater trip. This pleasant gang had limited their catch to just a few snappers that they would take to lunch at a local restaurant; all the other “legals” had been carefully released.

As I packaged the filets on ice, I couldn’t help but notice this couple flitting from one charter filet table to another taking notes; strange! As they examined my limited catch, they moved quickly to another table.

Thought nothing more of the happening, until a phone call that evening with the party inquiring about my availability the following day. I had an opening and stated that I would be glad to take them backwater.

The caller then acknowledged that he was the “flitter.” So, my natural follow up inquiry was “why me? I had a customer controlled catch yesterday.”

“Because you are the only one we called that has availability tomorrow.” Ego shattering; but I booked them.

Quite expectedly, the opening conversation the next day was all about the number and species of fish they could count on in the cooler that morning. I was candidly honest, “will be a tougher day than yesterday, the wind has switched northwest and we could have some fouled water here in the backwater, but we will do our best.”

Our family, that morning was mom and dad and two obnoxious pre-teens that obviously knew everything. Their admitted goal was to take every legal fish they could get their hands on. Comments from the family as we searched for a clean water spot ranged from, “going to start fishing’ pretty soon, captain?” to “hope we get some big grouper back here” and then lots of other caustic remarks to help make the trip a relaxing and pleasant event.

Finally found a spot inside Rookery Bay where the water was relatively clean and the tidal current workable. We set up with 1/4 oz. jigs tipped with shrimp and had at it. We had strikes right away with continuing action on mangrove snapper. Good action but, unfortunately for the “hunters” all a half inch short.


The next endeavor was to convince the kids that taking undersize fish was illegal and fending off comments like, “whose going to know?” They reviled at my response of “me”.

Mom and dad were heading towards ballistic as we passed the first charter hour mark with but one barely minimum size snapper in the cooler. As we prepared to move on, one of the kids hooked a 22” snook and after a struggle got it boatside. “Finally, we got a dinner fish,” was the


They almost came out of their shoes when their father announced that the minimum take size for snook was 27.”

The morning wore on and the anxiety level reached a crescendo with close to an hour left on the charter half day. The conditions backwater was super tough and although we caught a multitude of fish, almost all were undersized. All we had with waning charter time was two minimum size mangrove snappers in the box.

Through all of this, we had a glorious morning, with clear blue skies, and warming temperatures with dolphins cavorting all along our route, no enjoyment with that; the strict focus was on killing fish.

As we neared the terminal point of the trip, I asked the parents to stand down for a moment and “let’s talk.” My pitch was “some days are like this; we’ve caught lots of small fish and had the fun of the struggles and articulated on to the pleasures of being on the water and catch and releasing; not necessarily taking.

The boys were now totally distant and the tone from mom and dad was borderline defiant. I asked the reason for requiring a “catch.” The wife quickly exclaimed that she had promised her mom and dad, full timers here, that they would bring fish home for dinner.

I did something I don’t usually do; I had a couple of gift certificates from a top-notch local fish market that was close by the marina. I presented them with a $25 certificate and told them, they would have their fish; almost as fresh as what you would have caught this morning.

“That will take the pressure off your commitment to family and you can enjoy the remaining time of this trip.”

There wasn’t that much time left but the difference in stress level was immense. They even smiled, and the boys laughed; proving fishing should be a sporting event in the truest sense.

More:On The Hook: Breaches in fishing’s code of conduct

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.