Is this OK anymore?

I’ve seen the pictures from my dad’s youth… the ones where he stands there with stringers full of steelhead from some Northern CA river. The past, they say, is a different country and they do things differently there. There was no concern that we’d over fish a run of fish. The idea seemed absurd. The oceans and rivers are timeless and massive and we are so fleeting and small.

And then we pretty much destroyed those things.

All those are steelhead trout.

This picture isn’t of my dad, as this was in 1916, but the theme is the same. Think they ate all those fish? They certainly didn’t have a fridge plugged in at home, so odds are that most of those fish didn’t feed anyone. Just wanton slaughter.

I should say that I’m not a party boat kind of guy. I don’t like that style of fishing, I don’t do it and I don’t know that much about it. So, maybe it is out of ignorance that I draw the parallel and I’ll be the first to admit there are plenty of things I don’t know enough about to have totally valid opinions.

In this day and age, is there really any species of fish that we should be really proud of catching and killing and stringing up by the dozens? In the modern era is this sort of thing still OK?

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  1. Seems odd that we even have to ask the question. Even though I know it is rhetorical, my grandfather’s generation wouldn’t believe so. Anytime we went fishing, we would swing by Grandpa Koz’s for a cold beverage afterwards, tell him we went fishing and he was nearly out the door to see our catch. Rarely would he believe we event went without proof. I am glad we are mentoring the next generation to practice selective harvest and C & R with proper fish handling measures. Most of the guys I meet on the water that tell me about ‘How Great’ the river was twenty years ago later show me stringers of +20″ fish, that they claim were very tatsy, and then they wonder why ‘there aren’t any more like there used to be.’ Hmmm, when will we be satisfied with hanging a bunch of dead animals on our walls so we can look at the psuedo marblized eye and have a great recollection of a trip out west or to some Great Last Frontier….

  2. It depends. If those were snappers and we were going to eat them, then sure. They’re not endangered. But if those were Permit…..

  3. Oh, and I’m talking about the modern pic. Not that awful steelhead slaughter above it.

  4. I did my share of environmental fish damage as a kid. We did manage to eat most everything we caught but some went to waste. Now days a photo is enough for me. If I don’t have a camera, the memory serves. That photo is part of the reason I would not do a party boat. There should be restrictions on what they can keep. I think the sizes of those fish tell a story. 10, 15 or 20 years ago they would have been much bigger.

  5. The human species seems to be predisposed to gluttony whether it’s fish, bison, doves, wolves, or most anything. Once humans discover a potential bountiful harvest we seem compelled to take every one we possibly can. Maybe it goes back to our ancestors who had to hunt to survive and when they took advantage of the good times. Personally, I belive in these more modern times the innate desire to harvest so much is driven more by greed – the old “I need to get mine before someone else does” and they justify the harvest by saying if I don’t kill these things someone else will. Taking photos of a group of stupidly grinning people posed around a bunch of dead things seems to support my conclusion. I remember seeing a photo of a wooden wagon literally over flowing with huge Lahontan cutthroat trout. It was in a book about Yellwstone and Teddy Roosevelt I think.

  6. the one that is driving we nuts these days is shark fin soup. I know out in califronia they have gotten rid of it…not here in maryland. I refuse to eat in restuarants that serve it and in my section of the city have visited severl to make it clear to them that i will not be eating there with shark fin soup still on the menu.

    jesus, it’s like tiger paw soup.

  7. We did indeed get rid of Shark Fin Soup, which is good. I think about bison and wolves. I think that there used to be Grizzly Bears in the Bay Area and certainly throughout most of California (they are still on our flag), but now aren’t in CA at all, or Oregon or Nevada. Maybe we are mostly out of the business of destroying whole species with rifles and traps, but we have less visibility into what gets destroyed in the ocean and it feels like we still have a sense of the ocean being too big to ruin one hook at a time, but I bet we can. Le sigh.

  8. Hi,

    30-35 odd years ago or so, a friend and I used to fish a couple of remote beaver ponds surrounded by tag alder bush, poplar, maple and birch forrests. Back then it was no problem to take 20 or 30 Brook Trout from 12 to 24 inches in a day…and we did!. Nobody else ever fished these fish, and never did we notice that the fishery to have dropped off!. Back then our “Ministry of Natual Resources” in Ontario Canada set the daily creel limit at 30 fish per day. We never took “Glory Photo’s” or any photo’s at all. We were just concerned with having a good outing and a great feed of fish at the end of the day along with a few fish for the freezer. Those times are long since past. Other folks eventually found out about our gloryhole due to our own carelessness and proceeded to rape it of everything it had.

    The generous creel limits at that time are what made that possible!. Now, where I used to be able to keep 30 brook trout…I can only keep one (of any size). Were that the case back then…I’d still be able to go there and catch brookies to my hearts content up to the trophy sized bruisers.

    Our conservation mentality back then isn’t what it is now. Only once we’ve lost something that we once had…do we realize what we must do now to get it back.


  9. I think it’s only really OK in cases where fisheries management science can approve of it on occasion. For example, I saw a few years ago a post somewhere about a private farm pond that was filled to the brim with stunted bass and blue gill. The DNR said that heavy, heavy harvests were required to get the lake back up to quality size fish, so over the course of the year, they took something like 300 bass and buckets and buckets of bluegills out of the lake. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to “the olden days”, and a rare case at that, but It’s what I’ve got to add here.

    I think bluegill and other small panfish which procreate very quickly could be argued to be able to sustain such fishing, to a limited extent. But IDK about that. I was just thinking today about how much I’d love to have modern tackle during the early years of America, when Leviathans roamed large and wide….

  10. It really depends on the species and the location. Remember there are what? 5 people in that photo so on a per person basis it’s probably not too bad.

    These people (i.e the bait chuckers) believe it or not are our allies in marine conservation and it makes no sense to alienate them.

    It’s hard to be concerned about this when Taiwanese fishing boats are slashing the fins of sharks and throwing the carcasses back into the sea.

  11. All too familiar here in Hawaii… us out by designating Hawaiian Bonefish as a “sportfish” and stop the gill netting!

  12. Although I am a fairly strict catch and release guy, a couple times a season my mother in law will ask me to bring her a fish. Usually a trout in the spring, and a smallmouth in the summer. She loooooves a smallie 🙂 When I bring her a fish and she prepares it for the family it is always a nostalgic event for her. She is in her 70’s and recalls her father and grandfather coming home with stringers loaded with trout from the Beaverkill and Willowemoc, and every single one of those fish were eaten. Either by themselves or by neighbors, friends, or family.

    I’d be surprised if the same didn’t hold true for the steelhead in the 1916 photo above. Those men brought those fish to town and shared them, sold them, traded them, and ate them. If they were in camped up on those rivers for extended time they would have kept their catch fresh in the cool water of the river. There are / were other ways of preserving your catch besides refrigeration as well.

    We’re they “over fishing”? Perhaps. But they would have looked at you crosseyed if you suggested it to them. It was a different time, and I do not believe those fish were wasted.

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