Limits?

I was recently listening to Tom R.'s Orvis Podcasts and he had Kirk Deeter on the podcast to talk about some conservation issues related to Native vs Non Native fish. Off that subject, Kirk hit on a tangent that caught my interest and is something I have not heard many “experts” talk about in the fly fishing press. Here is my synopsis of what Kirk mentioned.

With the popularity of Catch and Release many anglers feel as long as they release fish they are great stewards of the river/ecosystem. At the same time the sophistication level of fly fishing has gotten to a point (especially with "Euro style nymphing) that catching 25 plus fish on a pressured river system is very possible by many anglers. Kirk notes that when fish get caught…because they are fighting for their lives they release stress hormones. When that fish is released those hormones can stay in their bodies at decreasing levels for a few days. These fish though continue to eat…so on pressured streams that see many anglers it is not crazy to think that that same fish will be caught again within those few days and therefore have even more of the hormone in their bodies. Scientists believe in these types of streams the death rate of C&R fish could be near 5% or more. Kirk then went on to say that he wished more anglers understood this and did not catch 25 or more fish and caught a few fish before deciding that was enough or switching tactics to make it harder for them to catch fish…in essence make the sport harder, catch less but catch them in a way that improves your skills.

I cannot tell you how many times I have run into anglers who tell me they just caught 50 fish or recant a story about an amazing blue line where they caught 3 fish in every pool and came close to 100 fish! While many of these stories might be exaggerations or lies, even 20% of those numbers is a big impact when we live in a day and age where very very few “honey holes” are secrets.

While I am not good enough of an angler to have ever had one of those days, I like to think it I hit the jackpot I would stop early enough and change my practices or just enjoy the woods. It is for sure now something I will think about and try to practice going forward.

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Thanks for this Adam.
I personally find that I start to lose interest in fishing after my 5th or 6th fish caught. I will sometimes just end the fishing day after the 6th fish, as I feel that I experienced what I wanted to experience and fish after the 6th start to feel like greed. I cannot imagine catching 50+ fish in one day. With those numbers, the fish are just unmemorable numbers and the experience of each fish has to be blurred or not really important. My brother, who does not fish, asked if I appreciated and every fish I caught on an outing. When I realized the answer was “no”, I began to catch less fish.

Also, I am hoping that people start to move away from fish pictures on social media. There has been less “grip and grin” shots, but still too many fish pictures. I know some of those fish have suffered longer than needed or dropped on rocks in the pursuit of a picture. Unnecessary at this point. We all know what fish look like.

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I’ve had multiple 50+ fish days and one 100+ fish day. In my experience, it’s waaay more dependent on the stream than the angler. I have no special skills as an angler; I just have stumbled across creeks that have a ton of fish in them.

Call me a weirdo, but I enjoy catching a lot of fish. It’s why I go fishing. If I just wanted to enjoy nature, I’d go for a hike. Yes, I still get excited about fish #50.

The creeks I fish do not get heavily fished. I don’t know where you live, but within a few hours of me (eastern Idaho), there are plenty of streams where I can catch dozens of fish in a day, and they basically never see other anglers. If you live in a more populated area and fish more pressured streams, I could see the problems arising.

And as one other data point, it’s been apparent to me that in these creeks that have insane numbers of fish, there are too many fish. They’re all small and skinny. From a fishing standpoint—and I’m guessing also from an overall ecosystem health standpoint, but I’m no biologist—maybe it’s not necessarily a bad thing if the population is reduced. Again though, if we’re talking about pressured waters, it’s a different story from a fishing standpoint.

Or yeah, maybe I AM just being greedy.

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Great thread.

I am with Tristan on this. I have had some days with insane fish counts and it is definitely certain rivers, certain times of the year, and really not a ton of skill involved.

My motivation to catch that many fish depends on how I am feeling and the type of fishery. My fetish is not with fish counts or size, but with color and markings. So for me catching more fish is more like a walk through a gallery than it is about score. If they are wild fish, I will probably catch them until I tap out. The colors on stocked fish are less motivating and I am satisfied pretty quick with just a few.

Regarding C&R. I have heard of fish releasing stress hormones that then create a build up of latic acid. If you google fish stress latic acid you will find plenty of material on the topic.

Recently I wrote an article for my surfcasting group about C&R += K . The K is for kill. Most folk think that just because a fish swims away that it is ok. We have impact on the fishery, we weaken these fish. They can fall to disease and predators in their weakened state.

Adam, your post may point in the why we occasionally land a fish that has a difficult time recovering. Plenty of times I have landed numbers of fish and released them in the water without landing. Then we run into one that does not fight long and has a hard time recovering. I have had trout linger at my feet or in my eddy, so stunned that I can often reach down and touch them. A fish in that state is a sitting duck for any predator that comes along. Whenever I see that I consider its survival as poor.

I recognize the impact I have for my entertainment. C&R is not holy or pure. It can be even more devastating to a fishery than the guy who just fishes to keep his limit and then goes home. They say mortality is 5-15%, so if you have a good day of 50 fish, that could be 5 that get crossed out. I suspect that number goes up if you fish warm water, if you handle the fish too much. and if you take time to photo your fish… The death squeeze or the shake n bake landings ( leave and gravel treatment) cant be good either. Just any handling is not recommended, they say leave them in the water.

They may not die on the spot, but they do have a limit to what they can recover from.

@TenkaraAddict @Gressak I hope you understand the point of my post. It is a post to get you to think when you are having a good day and catching fish easily to consider another alternative…make the game harder in some fashion…use a longer line, use a bigger hook, only cast under trees…whatever. Don’t just go for the most you can. Again consider it…I am not preaching just asking for folks to consider it and think about it.

I love chocolate chip cookies…and when they are around I eat more than my fair share…but I don’t eat 50 or a hundred…at some point the “consumption” level is grotesque. We all have a limit…consider if yours is too high. I for sure need to cut back on the cookies.

We as anglers do indeed have an impact for our entertainment and I am not advocating stopping that but setting limits. Without limits…who knows what will happen.

If you are like Tristan and you make videos and have a following then you have listeners…it is up to you how you want to use that position…perhaps more of an “impact” to consider than just the fish you catch?

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@arieger
I do use those moments to learn by experimenting as it is the best opportunity, but I do not handicap my productivity.

What you are suggesting is contrary to the sport of what we do. It is like saying it is better to not share the info in this forum so that we can better protect the fish.

Yes, the resource is finite. There will be a day when it may be gone. If we participate on any level, we are contribitors.

Lets face it Adam, most folk who have a great numbers day on the water probably would enjoy it as it is not at a usual interval, if it were, it would get boring.

I don’t plan my trips or fishing time based on the number of fish I can catch. Sometimes I hike to a lake 8-10 miles one way, fish for 2 hours and then hike out. Other times I will stay overnight and fish all day on numerous lakes or streams and I will catch as many fish as I can or until I get tired of it. In the extreme wilderness areas I frequent, lakes where conditions don’t allow natural reproduction are stocked with the intent of providing recreation and food for people that explore remote areas. They survey the lakes regularly and base the stocking numbers and frequency in order to maintain healthy populations or trophy size goals. Limits in the wilderness are DOUBLE that of areas outside the wilderness boundary. They encourage harvesting, particularly in lakes that tend to have too much natural reproduction, causing stunted growth and overpopulation. For local water bodies which is probably more pertinent to this thread, they only set limits on keeping fish, not catching fish. If I don’t plan on keeping fish to eat, I will “keep them wet” as much as I can within reason, but if I stop fishing it is not due to feeling like I’ve caught too many or that I’m harming the population. Even with highly pressured “tourist” water (which I avoid like the plague), people pay guides to catch as many fish as possible. They will have “hoot owl” hours or other restrictions based on water levels or temps, however. One thing to note is that MT does not stock any river or stream either….they are naturally reproducing. The water bodies are monitored relatively closely and I believe that if C&R was overly detrimental then they would explore other restrictions.

Food for thought: if we assumed the 5% death rate for C&R mentioned above, that means if I caught 100 fish then 5 would die. It just so happens that 5 fish is the DAILY trout limit for keeping fish in many of the water bodies in MT. If FWP determines that keeping up to 5 fish per day per person is acceptable, I don’t feel a moral or ethical obligation to place additional arbitrary limits based on opinion or theory on myself or anyone else. I have zero tolerance for those that break laws such as wasting meat, poaching, littering, camping too close to water, trespass, illegally bait animals, etc, but I unapologetically fish and hunt for food and sport.

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What I am saying is not contrary to the sport I practice. I angle the way I do for a challenge not to catch the most fish I can. I angle the way I do as a “handicap” on purpose. If I just wanted to catch the most fish, I would choose other methods and places or species. I admit I hate a blank day.

I feel forums like this share techniques and ideas to catch fish…not catch the most fish or unlimited amounts of fish. Maybe that is how some people view this sport and that is evident from the responses but it is not all of us and not me.

I disagree about the resource being finite…it rebuilds itself if allowed enough time. Even minerals and oil get created anew if allowed time. But for sure if enough of us behave without limits and that rebuilding time is not allowed then it can be destroyed.

Kirk specifically mentions in the podcast steelhead fishing which was devastated with its fame. He says now if you walk into an angler bar and speak about multiple fish caught you risk getting beat up. This shift in attitude is bringing the resource back.

State laws are to be followed of course but thinking they actually have sense to them or sound logic is not always the case. In my State of NY a change in the regulations even on a specific stream is a major process that can take years. Perhaps MT is different.

Kirk Deeter in the podcast mentions how many of the famous rivers of the west are a small fraction of what they used to be when he first started in the industry. Tom Rosenbauer backed him up on that. This decline has many possible reasons but one of them is most likely C&R of high numbers of fish by high numbers of anglers in rapid succession.

What is the right number? I have no idea. I just want to get people thinking about it.

If you believe this then what is the purpose of this thread?

You and I fish the same region and it is largely a put and take fishery. Our water would immediately collapse if it were not for the stocking programs. Hell, most of our water is not habitat suitable for trout year round. Some rivers that get stocked are too warm in the summer to sustain them. I suspect it is the similar story across the US.

So I think finite is a good descriptor. I would guess truly wild might be 5-10% of all rivers. If we did not have stocked rivers those wild rivers would get a ton of pressure and probably would be snuffed out.

Stocked trout are planted for our harvest or entertainment. They are not a natural resource, they are an artificial one. For this reason, I do not hesitate enjoying them. My interval to wild water is infrequent enough that I feel that my footprint is small even if I have a high number day.

I know you say you are not trying to preach but I sense in your language that you are passing some judgement. Before we get condemned, I would like to note in general most of us take care of the resource and handle the fish in the best way that we can. I really feel we land fish faster with tenkara than I have seen western fly fishing anglers land fish. They seem to play fish to death.

I have dialed my outings way back over the last couple of years. I do enjoy tenkara but it definitely does not have the same complexity as fishing the salt. For me, my impact on any trout fishery is far less than someone who is more dedicated to targeting trout. I am just not on the water enough. This is why I really do not feel aligned to your suggestions especially in an artificial fishery as ours is. If it were wild and collapsing I might have a different response.

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I’d like to add something different to this topic. Specifically regarding survival rates for released fish.
I had a ten year period of fanatical tuna fishing in the waters south of San Diego stretching all the way down to Panama. A number of those trips were run by and for scientific tagging purposes… long story, details aren’t important here. (Awesome fun, memories of a lifetime.) But the meticulous records made for each fish before release included the biologist’s assessment of the health and predicted survivability of the tuna. As the years passed and tags were recovered the biologists were continuously surprised at how many of the fish that had been written off as very highly likely not to survive (all fish were required to be released no matter what) in fact turned up a year or more later not just quite alive but had grown just as much as fish assessed as perfect upon release.
So, we can speculate all we want, but my experience is that fish are much tougher than we might think.
On the other hand, my experiences with tagging led me to almost NEVER taking a picture of a fish and getting them released as quickly and efficiently as possible. To me, the perfect release is when he comes off the hook before being touched by hand or net.
As for massive count days… no. When it gets too easy I just stop, enjoy where I am with a beverage, take some pictures of the beautiful landscape and the people there with me.


This is a picture of the biologist surgically implanting an electronic tag in the abdomen of a 75# yellowfin tuna. I’m the guy in the green shirt. Good times…

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I have no idea what “the number” is either and until one is determined by something other than opinion or someone’s arbitrary definition of being a good steward I will continue to fish within the established laws and regulations. I think C&R is way down the list of detrimental effects on fish population. I love listening to Tom’s podcasts but I don’t take everything he or his guests say as gospel, but I enjoy the varying opinions.

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You and I know each other so I am NOT concerned with your practices at all. I keep replying because I want the bystanders reading this to not get confused by our back and forth. And yes I always judge…don’t we all :)? But I am also judging myself and considering adding this self limit to my practices…if I do hit one of these epic days…which either I don’t get out enough or I am unlucky or I do suck…but I honestly don’t think I have ever had a day over 20 fish.

The point of this thread is to consider, like a catch and kill limit, a catch and release limit imposed by yourself on your day. Even in the waters that not a single trout will survive the summer and the state stocks for OUR entertainment. The key word there is “our”…they do not stock it for you. It is stocked for all anglers and that is why there is a catch and kill limit so that others can come the next day and have some fish. It is impossible for there to be a catch and release regulation…that has to be from self restraint…realizing that you impact that fishery for the next angler and the following days.

I will tell a quick nice etiquette story. My neighbor and I went to go fishing post lunch on our local. Right next to where we parked is a great run in full view from the cars. As we got dressed and ready to fish we watched this guy hook and land 3 fish one which was a really nice 14 incher. As I always do…I walked over near him and waited to catch his eye and then I went down to ask him how he saw it best we share the river since he was there first. He said,“you know what…I was here this morning and caught around 20 fish in the upper section so I would say I have had my fair share…jump in right here and have a good day…and btw this is what has been working for me.” Now I for sure would do that also for another angler…but perhaps we should consider this thought process even if the next angler is not actually there talking to us?

BTW Steve…not sure if you know but NYS just changed its regs in like the first time in forever. 2 streams in my local area have now been designated as “wild” and stocking stopped when they have stocked them for as long as I have been here. I honestly would not have guessed they could get such a status and I guess we will see if it can work.

Fair enough. But you are thinking about it and that is good!

I’ve always considered those types of things.

According to our fishing rules, trout can be taken from 40 cm. Therefore, everything that is smaller than the size must be released. I try to follow these rules.

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