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Thoughts on catch and release

August 13, 2015

Daniel Galhardo, founder of Tenkara USA, recently released a Tenkara Podcast called Tenkara Cast. The content is interesting, well thought out, and engaging. In the 2nd episode "Excuses - Why You May Get Skunked and How To Catch Fish" he brings up a good point - how do you know that you have caught a fish? Tenkara Cast's attempt to answer that existential question is thought provoking.

It is a question all fishermen ask, if not out loud, in their own heads every time they get their line wet: "Did I catch that fish?" According to the Tenkara Cast if your hand smells like fish, you played the fish for more than 3 second, or the fish jumped clear out of the water - then yes you caught the fish.

This answer got me to thinking because up until today I had hardly given this matter much thought. As my skills improved in Tenkara I qualified catching a fish as bringing it to hand (or my net) only. If the fish gets off my line, at any time for any reason before I touch it, then I did not really catch the fish. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines "catch" as follows:

: to use your hands to stop and hold : to use your hands to grasp and hold onto : to capture and not allow (a person, animal, or fish) to escape

I have always defined a fishing trip in one of four ways (or a combination of these four): I was Skunked, I got X amount of Bites, I had X amount of Fish On, and I Caught X amount of fish. Now I am not trying to say Daniel is wrong and I am right, in fact I like his definition of "caught" better than mine. If I follow the logic put forth on Tenkara Cast then the times I have been skunked drops dramatically and that 24"+ monster Rainbow I wrestled for at least one minute before she snapped my line counts as a catch

While we are on the subject of catching fish one of the things I find unique about fishing is the act of catching and releasing fish. Fish are the only animals that we "hunt" only to release them back into the wild. Imagine if we just tranquilized a bear, boar, deer, or elk; took a photo, and then stood guard over them (from a safe distance) until they awoke? The first fish I killed after catching it with my Tenkara rod, made me sick and I seriously considered becoming a vegetarian afterwards. There is something about taking an animal from its home and killing it that seems unnecessary to me. If I was surviving in a life or death situation far from civilization then it would be different. But when I stop by the grocery store to buy spices to cook the fish with when I get home, the whole activity seems a little pointless to me. Note: I am not advocating the ban of hunting. I do believe that if there are not enough predators than a species can become a pest or even a danger to society. That is where hunting comes in - to provide a balance. IMO I believe that there are sportsmanlike ways of hunting and then there are other ways that are less sportsmanlike (such as sitting in a blind with a bait trap below you). But I digress....


If I adopt Tenkara Cast's definition of "catching" (the fish gets off after three (3) or more seconds of being played, or it jumps out of the water and then gets off) then when the fish frees itself before I've had a chance to restrain it with my hand (or net) I have essentially "released" the fish back to the river. This type of release will ensure the fish is healthier and more likely to survive than if I had brought it to hand and possibly injured it or stressed it to the point of death. Adopting Tenkara Cast's definition of catching will then serve to bring more satisfaction to the angler (and reduce the "one that got away" stories that permeate our culture). And the fish? Well nothing changes much for them except maybe the empowering knowledge that they were caught yet got away...

Written by Isaac Tait who now lives in San Diego but dreams of returning, one day, to Japan. You should follow him on Twitter