Even thirty years ago catch and release was not widely accepted practice. For so many the tradition of angling they grew up with ended in harvest. Tradition is stale, transfixed. Even today, jurisdictions tasked with protecting threatened stocks run up against resistance. The only acceptable options are retention or nothing at all. I’d argue so much emphasis on the past is a big part of the problem.
Fisherman are nostalgic and always seem to be looking for the gravity of a moment. The tweed hat, Scotch you can’t afford and box of classic flies as important as time out on the water. Fishing a run named by a famed angler 50 years ago solidifies our little place in steelhead lore. Mine was “orgasmatron” on the Skeena. How profound. Again though the focus on history has a way of becoming stagnant.
Spey fishing is full of culture. A trip around your tackle shop every six months will show you the rapidly evolving fashions of a sport grappling with just not being all that cool. Reinventing the image of fly guy is a full time job and making you look slick in rubber pants, no pun intended, deserves prizes and medals. Culture is fluid. It moves, it morphs, it adapts. Even conservation is now tied intricately into angling culture and it was inevitable.
Culture can come about out of necessity. It’s no longer cool to throw a plastic water bottle in the trash or pour engine oil down the drain. Hardly sexy causes, the new world we find ourselves in with more pressures from more people demands change and it forms culture. Angling has had a similar renaissance and andromous fly anglers at the forefront. As the community has watched the flames of great rivers flicker out it just stopped making sense to be racing to the plunder all the time. The method you used to capture the fish, the condition it was in, the challenge of the cast, the voracity of the bite, the beauty of the spot all qualifiers of the experience beyond catching the most.
Another example worth revisiting is catch and release and the influence of culture. The mighty Dean might have a couple thousand chinooks come back and twice as many steelhead on a strong year. Both likely in far less than historical abundance but steelhead are catch and release by law and kings can be harvested. Now fish managers with far more expertise than me determine stock exploitation rates but it hardly seems plausible there is not one BC steelhead stock with over abundance and all chinook stocks have the potential for openings. The difference? The culture of catch and release has deep roots in steelhead angling and not in salmon fishing.
Silver Lining: big salt water lodges have been popularizing the release of large tyee, those monster kings over 30 pounds, and increasing the practice exponentially. Angling culture has once again taken the wheel and driven the sport.
Keep em wet is another recent example of the shifting landscape of catch and release and proof it can inform change. An obvious premise, fish don’t breathe air, the movement encourages anglers to keep the fish in the water for the duration of capture, a practice that could only benefit. While adopted quickly by some, it was ridiculed by plenty, questioned by others and a point of contentious debate. A few short years later, it’s hardly a controversy and widely accepted as the preferred practice. The culture shifted and us along with it.
So pick your favorite fish charity, fish a skater instead of a girdle bug from hell, go home after ya catch a couple or write a letter and keep moving the ball forward not back. That’s culture.