Flatswalker muses on C&R. Truth seems to be that most folks aren’t doing it right. Look around the web and see the number of grip and grin photos. I have some from my first trip before I knew any better and now I try really hard to make sure the fish I catch have a fighting chance.
For the longest time I’ve lauded fly fishing for it’s low-impact on the species we chase in our silly little obsession. On the face of it there’s something to such a notion: fly fishing is often catch-and-release, the mechanics of it usually prevent gut-hooking fish, and (frankly) we often catch far less fish than other techniques, which limits the impact further.
If you want that bonefish you just caught to survive, it is a really good idea to leave the fish in the water. There is ample evidence to support that. If you’ve sniffed around at the fringes of catch and release for bonefish the studies and best practices are pretty easy to find.
Many anglers were first exposed to bonefish, permit or tarpon in fly fishing magazines. I know I was personally inspired to find my first bonefish by an article I read and the pictures I saw. Inspiration is good.
The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust is hoping the inspiration can be done with the fish in the water. Basically, they are hoping that magazines will start showing fish in the water to help anglers model this good behavior.
Here’s the full text of their letter to the fishing media asking them to use photos that support the best practices in catch and release fishing for bonefish, tarpon and permit.
Today was a good day. The weatherman dropped the ball on this one though. Partly Cloudy would imply some clouds… not all clouds. That’s what I had today with Captain Perry out of McLeans Town on the East End of Grand Bahama (now guiding out of East End Lodge).
Captain Perry was great. He knew where the fish were, he knew what to throw and how it should be retrieved. He didn’t get (too) frustrated when I cast on top of the fish for the 6th time or lead the fish by 10′ for the 7th time.
I was/am impressed with Captain Perry’s conservation ethic. He knows how bad air exposure/handling are for the fish and whenever possible he avoided taking them out of the water or handling them. He’s a good steward of the natural wonderland that is Grand Bahama. You should be glad he’s out there.
That bone is going to be just fine.
Conditions were not ideal. The clouds made it really tough to spot fish. Capt. Perry had it dialed though, and was routinely putting me on fish. I botched a fair number of those opportunities and it took us a while to get the skunk off the boat, but once that happened, the fun began.
Day 2 Skunk Breaker
A good time was had, despite the weather. We used a magic/secret fly that Perry uses to get the skunk off and for the first several fish. We then switched over to a pink #4 Gotcha and again, it was money. I fished almost the entire time with the TFO Clouser 8 wt. and TFO Large Arbor Reel. I’m in love with both of them.
With Perry you fish hard, 8-3:30. So, after being dropped back at the dock (he’ll pick you up in Freeport if you want, I wanted to drive out there) I hit a small flat I had remembered from my last trip. The light was fading when I got there, but there were a few tailing fish. I spooked a couple, but didn’t rush things. A while later the tails popped up again. I made a good cast and quickly came tight on a bonefish. Then, as it started it’s run, it just came off. Bummer.
Still, 12 fish to hand on a cloudy, windy, cool day is good fishing in my book. I highly recommend Captain Perry. He’s a good guide and a good guy.
Another Grand Bahama Bone
A great day.
Being on the water also meant I got to miss continuing coverage of the disaster in Haiti. The little bit of the news I did catch nearly brought me to tears. The CNN anchorwoman actually started crying. Luckily, the answer to global calamities is to go fishing.
A note on fuel… gas was about $4.50 when I was there, meaning a little over $100 of the day’s guide fee went to gas to get us out to the dumb fish. It was painful for me to pay as much as I did, but the Captain is worth it and, just so you know, I paid full price for the trip and am not getting anything in return for the positive report.
There was a great Op-Ed in Field and Stream about upcoming (and very important) meetings in Florida that will further detail what protections are and are not given to bonefish and permit.
The news isn’t so great. It appears that the good folks in the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission think that “catch and release” means you can’t touch the fish, despite C&R being on the books in lots and lots of states and countries.
From the article…
At the FWC Bonefish Workshops in October 2009, FWC staff stated that the FWC interpretation was that “catch and release” was equivalent to “prohibited species”. Based on FWC’s interpretation, this means that even touching the fish (e.g., holding a bonefish to take a photo, remove a hook, or to measure) constitutes ‘”possession” and a fine/ticket if witnessed by an FWC enforcement officer. This interpretation is counter to responsible fisheries conservation.
Catch and release is used as a fisheries management tool throughout the United States and in many places in the world. In these locations, catch and release is interpreted as releasing the fish alive soon after capture. Responsibly photographing, measuring, and weighing of the fish are permitted in these states.
They also appear set to roll back protections for permit that would include opening the species to spear fishing in federal waters and eliminating spawning season closures.
The comments to Field and Stream bit speak with one voice in opposition to the thrust of the article. In fact, they use very similar wording and recite the same points. Kind of reminds one of the Bush team hitting the political talk shows all reading from the same playbook. Democrats aren’t organized enough to do that. It all smells very organized and that smell stinks.
On the rather long list of stuff I didn’t know about you can add the growing body of knowledge regarding bonefish catch and release mortality.
It turns out that, depending on what is lurking nearby and how long it took to take that picture, mortality of bonefish in the R part of the C&R equation can be up to 40%. FORTY PERCENT! Holy $h1t!
(UPDATE: the study referenced here the mortality rate for bonefish that had lost equilibrium was about 30%, another study pointed toward 40%)
Forty percent… as a trout C&R angler, I’m used to thinking of that number more like 3-5%. 40% just seems totally unacceptable and I hope if you are reading this, you’d find it unacceptable as well.
How this came about… scientists, anglers, the Bahamas, bonefish… an intriguing mix that yielded some really interesting and important findings.
Whether a bonefish had or had not lost equilibrium was a significant predictor of predation, with bonefish losing equilibrium being over six times more likely to suffer predation than those that did not lose equilibrium (sciency stuff removed here). All other variables measured during the study (total length, angling time, handling time, air exposure time, bleeding, and water temperature) were not directly related to predation risk.
Fish that were preyed upon did not spend significantly more time further from mangroves than fish that were not preyed upon. In fact, following release 17 (20%) bonefish were observed swimming into open water (N2.5 m deep) rather than staying in close proximity to the shore line or in shallow water. Longer air exposure and overall handling times were significant predictors of the loss of equilibrium in angled bonefish. Angling time, total length, water temperature, and bleeding at the hooking site were not significant predictors of equilibrium loss.
So, what does this all mean? It means dropping the Hero Shot is a really, really good idea if you care about that particular fish living. If you can take a pic of that fish in the water, great… but if you do what I did on my last trip and take the fish out of the water (or have the guide take the fish out of the water) for an extensive photo shoot… well… it won’t go well for the fish and it may only have a couple of minutes left to live.
If the fish is unable to right itself when you put it back in the water, that fish is in trouble. It could even be that these stressed fish even leave a trail of chemicals behind them that predators like Lemon Sharks zero in on.
Jason Lozano, one of the anglers involved in the study had this to say…
With 15 seconds of air exposure 80% of the fish we released in one day were killed by lemons or cudas within 2 mins. If the fished avoided contact with the predator longer than 2 mins their chances increased substantially.
Jason pointed out that some flats clearly had more predators than others. If you are fishing a flat with more cudas or sharks and you take that fish out for the glory/hero shot to the point it loses equilibrium when it is released, well, that fish will likely die soon.
So, to review… don’t take the fish out of the water. It’s a bad idea if you want the fish to survive.
UPDATE: In the study referenced above, bonefish that had lost equilibrium had a mortality rate of 30%, while bonefish that did not lose equilibrium had a mortality rate of about 4%.
Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have taken this picture.
Some fights should be easier than they end up being. In Florida, the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust is trying to make bonefish a catch and release only species (they are also trying to get permit to be catch and release only). In Hawaii there is a long cultural history of eating bonefish (O’io), but the cultural depths of that practice in Florida are as shallow as the flats where these magnificent fish are found.
We know a few things about bonefish in Florida…
They are big
There are about 300k of them in Florida waters
That number is a fraction of the bonefish population of 30 years ago
A single bonefish contributes about $3,600 per year to Florida’s economy and about $75,000 over its lifespan.
So, the importance of bonefish minus the cultural weight of the fish should make this pretty easy… right? Maybe, maybe not.
I read in the minutes (page 29) of one meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission where the Coastal Conservation Association Florida took the bold position of opposing any change to size, bag or gear restrictions and also opposed catch & release for both bonefish and permit. They also opposed a tagging program. Ah… with friends like these, Florida’s remaining bonefish may want to slide down to Belize, where both permit and bonefish are protected species and catch and release only.
lease support BTT’s effort to make bonefish catch and release in Florida by contacting the Commissioners and voicing your support. You can contact them by email (link to email not working) or by mail at the address below:Mr. Rodney Barreto Chairman
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Farris Bryant Building
620 South Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600
Just came across this bulletin board back-and-forth about Hawaiian Bones. The Phantoms of the Flats are not going to be C&R any time soon in Hawaii, I’d say. For too many in the Islands, bonefish are for fish cakes. One guy even complains about tourism $$’s… kind of like an Alaskan complaining about Oil money.