Catching a fish, only to return it alive to the water, may seem counter-intuitive. Especially if it's a trophy-size striper. But it's happening more often than you might expect, and becoming increasingly popular.
Striped bass fishermen have been practicing catch-and-release for as long as there have been size limits. But it used to be that the only fish you threw back were the ones under the legal limit - which today in Massachusetts stands at 28".
Then came this year's new, more restrictive bag limit: instead of two fish per day at 28"-or-more, anglers may now keep only one fish. So that's one reason for the uptick in catch-and-release for bigger fish. After you land one keeper, the rest have to go back in the water.
Another reason is awareness. Many fishermen understand the pressures that precipitated the new bag limit. They're concerned for the future health of the striper stocks. A good way to ensure the survival of the species is to return the biggest fish to the water.
"Let me show you the fish I caught," my friend Phil said to me the other day. He pulled out his phone and started flipping through images of striped bass. They were large fish. Trophy size. He'd been having a good spring. Almost as an afterthought, he said, "Of course, I put back all these big ones - the breeders. I only keep them when they're just the legal limit."
I don't know which impressed me more: his fishing success, or his unhesitating conviction that the biggest fish belong back in the gene pool.
It is a good sign, I think, for the future of the fishery.
It does help that nearly every angler now has a camera on his or her phone. It's a little easier to let that trophy swim away after you've posed for a nice photo with it.
Kevin Blinkoff told me that On The Water magazine added a catch-and-release category to its seasonal fishing tournament The Striper Cup, and the category is more popular every year. Fishermen submit photos of fish they caught. In the first seven weeks of the tournament this year, the category has already logged more than 17,000 inches of keeper-size bass.
Blinkoff also told me that the science shows that just over 90% of released bass survive. That's a good number, but it could be even better. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help make sure that striper you caught lives to swim another day:
1) Switch from using a J hook to using circle hooks with bait
2) Handle the fish carefully. Don't let it flop on the floor of the boat and panic unnecessarily.
3) Revive the fish before releasing it. Hold it in your hand upright just below the water until it swims away on its own strength.
In the audio posted above, you'll find the fishing round-up, detailing the fishing action this past week, including reports of bluefin tuna and mahi-mahi. Give it a listen.