Saturday, 30 April 2011

Catch & release, or not?

As I was looking trough some pictures I took along the water, the last couple of years, I came across this one, and it made me think.

This picture was taken a couple of years back, when I was still convinced that you had to fish for pike with lures and stuff like that (luckily I tried it on the fly one day).
Either way, ‘once upon a time in Belgium’, I came across this very sympathetic guy, when I was walking along the water. He was standing up to his ankles in the water, although his shoes and trousers were not designed for it. 

Then he landed this pike in a much to small net, with a rod I thought would break any second. And the moment he lay down the net on the ground, and saw his 7cm Rapala (with two treble hooks) disappeared into the mouth of the pike, he started to pull the mouth of the pike open with his fingers. Of course I intervened, and to make a long story short, I had to cut both of the treble hooks into pieces with my pliers to save the pike (the main reason why I never use treble hooks anymore) and it swam off very lively, which made us both feel good. I gave him two new treble hooks, and he started right away asking what kind of material and tools he needed to fish and unhook pike safely. Because, next to the euphoria of catching a beautiful fish, his immediate concern was to put it back as quickly as possible.
Now, this is a good story, which gives me hope for the next generation of fishermen, but unfortunately this kind of event is very rare.

‘Once upon another time in Belgium’, I came across this very sympathetic older guy when I was walking along the water, who was drilling a 96 cm pike, and I landed the pike in my net. But the moment I put the net on the ground, he pulled a rock out of the ground and smashed the pike’s head in.
When I asked him why he killed it, he said that he would take it home and take a picture (for his collection), show the pike to his neighbour (who’s also a fisherman), and then throw the pike in the garbage, because ‘still water pike’ tastes like mud (because of the low oxygen level). Besides that, this was his favourite place to fish for roach, so any pike was unwelcome in this area.
I can guarantee you that I used my most colourful vocabulary to say how stupid he was, but he just looked at me as if I came from another planet. This is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed with a lot of older fishermen, and it’s very hard to get people think differently about pike.

Its obvious that I promote ‘catch and release’ for pike in Belgium. I put all of them back, big or small. And there’s hope, I heard (from a reliable person) that the laws concerning pike will be changed next year. The pike season will be two months longer, but every pike caught (no mater what size) has to be retuned into the water immediately, for the next five years.



But what about other species?

When I was in the Belgian Ardennes the last time, I caught trout almost every day. But in the 12 days I was there, I only took these two with me for diner (32 and 28 cm). I like to eat a trout from time to time, and it’s ridiculous to buy them in the supermarket if you can get them fresh out of the water. But it did make me think about it.

On this part of the river Semois, you can only catch trout in springtime and you’re only allowed to fly-fish. And hundreds of kilos of fish are put into the river (like you see on the picture), so that people are able to catch them.
So it’s more like folklore, because most of the guys over there are barbel fishermen, and only touch a fly rod in springtime to catch and kill trout, to fill their freezer, and make their wife happy, which compensates for the expenses of their barbel fishing, the rest of the year (I think).

All this got me very conflicted. Every trout I caught and put back into the river was almost certainly killed by the next fisherman who came along. So did I put them back with hopes that they would get away and reproduce, or to give the next guy a nice barbeque?
The only reason that there is still trout to be caught, is by all the money people pay for their permit (which is used to buy and release fish), but the same people kill every one of them as well. So do you have to make people pay to fish for trout and send them to the supermarket to be able to eat one?

I struggled with that question for a couple of days, and then I had a visitor. This 12 year old boy heard that I tied my own flies, and one evening he arrived at my tent with his bicycle. I will never forget his first words: “Hi” he said, “I’m Kylian, and I’ve been fishing all my life”.
I was immediately charmed by the kid, and we had some long talks about fishing every evening for about a week (because every evening he arrived at my tent with all kinds of questions).

Anyway, at a certain moment he said something like this to me: “It’s not fair, because all those older guys fish with big and expensive rods, catch all the trout and kill them all. And then they wonder why young people don’t fly-fish. The few ones that I do catch, I measure them and only take the reasonable sized ones at home. They have to put smaller sized fish in the Semois, which everyone is obligated to put back into the water. This way they can reproduce and give us youngsters a chance to learn how to fish.”
I don’t know if these were his words (I think his older brother is teaching him), but it did make me feel pretty stupid, because he hit the nail on the head! Use the money to build up an ecosystem that’s good for both fish and fishermen.
Of course, an other big problem in Belgium is the fact that there is no supervision. In all those years I’ve fished there, I’ve been checked just one time!

I really hope there are more Kylians in the world, because they are the next generation and they can make a difference! 

1 comment:

Djuza said...

Very good wroted,I also wondering that killing mentality,especially killing pikes for "fun" as it was some kind of coarse fish.I don´t mean you have to release everything you got,I think it´s okay to take some catch to eat,but to throw it in garbage...I dont understand,as I dont understand that guy here in Finland who was busted for having 400 meters !!! nets in place that was protected untill 30.6