Wildwood Outfitters Blog and Fishing Report
I don't have a problem with legally harvesting an animal in the name of food. In fact, my wife and I are avid hunters and pridefully can tell you we haven't purchased store-bought beef in two years thanks to our venison-filled freezer. However, when it comes to trout, I would never even dream of killing it. Going one step further, when a fish is caught I will take extra precautions to ensure its safety by keeping my hands wet, writing blogs, making sure the fish stays in the water, and then reviving them before the final release.
For anglers who choose to keep their fish, the scene after a catch is quite different. Stringers must be procured, the fish must be properly attached to it, and then at the end of the day a knife unsheathed to prep the fish for eventual consumption. The trick to this, though, is harvesting fish responsibly!
As staunch as I am in support of catch and release fishing practices, I'm also a firm believer in listening to biologists. If someone with college degrees in the field and years of experience managing populations tells me it's fine to keep a few, then who can begrudge anglers for enjoying the fruits of their labor? A few times, and in a few different states, I've encountered brook trout populations that have extremely large heads in proportion to the rest of their body. After inquiring about the cause of this I found that it's the product of overpopulation, something common among brook trout-dominant waterways when few predators exist. The end result can be a percentage of the fish dying each winter thanks to starvation.
In that case, why wouldn't one be in favor of anglers keeping some trout? If it's death by starvation or death by a fisher who is planning on cooking up a fish supper...
There's a fine line with this, though. Spend any amount of time on trout streams in PA or the Lake Erie tributaries and what you'll see sometimes borders on wanton killing. Is it really necessary to kill a limit of trout on a Friday, throw them in the freezer, then go catch another limit Saturday morning? It's within the legal limits deemed appropriate by the PA Fish and Boat Commission, but that doesn't mean those fish have to be harvested. My guess is often times those limit of trout are cleaned, put into a plastic bag, then stuffed into the back of a freezer only to be rediscovered around Thanksgiving.
Furthermore, I encourage all anglers to read up on the PFBC fish consumption advisory for waterways around the state. Steelhead that enter Lake Erie tributaries are big, which makes them a common target for anglers who want to keep a few fish. Stringers abound on the tribs and sometimes it makes me sad seeing so many fish drug around on the yellow nylon rope. Forgetting about my feelings for a moment, it's also potentially unsafe. It's advised that people should only eat one meal of Lake Erie fish per month. Now imagine a stringer of three steelhead each measuring 24 or so inches! A fisher traveling to Erie for a long weekend of fishing could conceivably catch more than their recommended yearly consumption of fish!
One thing that we (as an angling community) should take a hard line on is keeping wild or native trout. In Pennsylvania, the state stocks north of one million trout yearly. Supplemental stockings from sportsman clubs add even more so there is no shortage of hatchery-reared fish swimming around in our streams. These are the fish that should be earmarked for harvest by those anglers wanting to do so. Native (brook) or wild (brown and rainbow) trout should always be left alone to do their thing and continue reproducing. With so many hatchery-born fish available, taking extra care to not harm wild fish should be a no-brainer.
What's the answer, then, because the topic of killing fish has staunch proponents on both sides? I'll continue to let fish go, write about it, and practice strict catch and release tactics on guide trips. Despite that stance, I'll also respect the guys and girls out there that want to take a few home to enjoy. At the end of the day neither side is always right or always wrong in their thought process and actions. Just be smart about it, harvest the right kind of fish, and enjoy the time on the water!