Does repeated catch-and-release of trout hurt fisheries?


I recently began to read the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s new Strategic Plan for Trout Fisheries Management.

I’m concerned about one part of the plan that refers to how a high rate of catch and release on wild trout may adversely affect the fish. I’m also curious what the practice does to stocked fish.

This topic is not new to me. I’ve recently read some articles concerning the release of big striped bass back into the ocean and how they are possibly damaged after a long battle, or subsequent poor handling, before release. To beach a huge striped bass requires a struggle that certainly tires the fish to an extreme level, and may actually stress it beyond survivability following release.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission currently adheres to an 8% hooking mortality rate of striped bass put-back into saltwater ecosystems. The commission cites deep hooking as the most established reason for bass mortality after release. But the commission also mentions poor handling of beached fish such as excessive squeezing, rough hook removal, the mere act of “beaching a fish” itself  and the release of a fish back into water that is above 65 degrees.

There is enough concern about catch and release with striped bass and how it may hurt the overall population that some have suggested anglers be allowed to catch and keep one fish regardless of size, with no release and no additional angling, which is believed to result in a lessened mortality rate on this fish species.

Considering that the Fish and Boat Commission encourages catch and release as it pertains to stocked fish, and the agency cites a concern about excessive releases of wild trout in its new strategic plan, I’m curious just how well releasing any trout after a fight works to the benefit of both the fish and angling public seeking quality trout fishing.

Granted, trout and striped bass are two completely different fish species living different life cycles, but there is at the least a small level of apprehension about catch and release practices relating to just about any fish.

In all honesty, I do a lot of catching and releasing of trout, both stocked, and always with occasional wild fish I hook. The vast majority of my trout are hooked fly- fishing, and my hooked fish stay in the water and are not handled by me as I use forceps to unhook the fish. But that is not to say anglers using spinning gear with lures or bait do not carefully release fish, because in my experiences, most of these anglers do release their fish similar to the way I do.

It seems basic rules for releasing trout have been around for a long time. Don’t play fish till they’re so tired they hardly move, don’t handle them if at all possible while keeping them in the water to remove hooks, cut the line for deep-hooked fish rather than attempting to remove the hook and once water temperatures reach a certain level, simply do not fish for trout — because the stress of fighting in heated water most likely will kill the fish.

Usually, as trout seasons moves on, angling for them lessens considerably. Streams and small, trout-stocked lakes, which were packed with fishermen early in the season, hardly see any anglers for trout as the warm months arrive. Most likely, this means the fish that remain live on undisturbed in the waters they call home, if they don’t get too warm.

Overall, the action of hooking, fighting and then releasing stocked trout really may not be of high importance to that particular trout fishery, anyway. Come the following early spring, fish will once again be stocked preseason and in-season in those same waters, providing a fresh supply of trout for anglers to enjoy.

But with wild trout, it may be different.

I’m not sure how often you can fool a wild trout into hitting a fly, lure or bait, but it sure seems that if those fish are looking for their next meal, they’ll be willing to strike. How that affects the fish’s chance for a long life, I surely don’t know, but that certainly is a question the Fish and Boat Commission must answer as the agency plans to promote wild trout habitat and the act of angling for those fish over the next few years.

Categories: Blog Content, Pennsylvania – Ron Steffe

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