Releasing the Mighty to Fight Again

While ice-fishing is in full swing in most places across the country, and with our Canadian friends as well, many necessary articles are written about ice safety and the safety of the fisherman in general. From time to time, it is important to also talk about the safe handling and releasing of fish. Not only on the ice, but during the open-water season.

This article was prompted recently while I was out fishing for perch, standing on the shore of Lake Michigan. The temperatures were chilly. We had snow with a mixture of rain. Anglers were dressed closely to what an ice angler would don.

Like perch fishing, a large population of ice anglers are looking for table fare. In most cases, you need to sift through the smaller fish caught to get the slot size you are searching for.

Bulky bibs won’t bend

Robert Doubek, set up perfectly to easily bring fish up through the ice and to release them back into the water safely.

As I was standing on the shore, observing the other anglers standing to either side of me, I noticed something that I have seen both on shore and ice fishing. Being properly dressed to combat the conditions means wearing bulky bibs, coats and layers. Bending is not always comfortable or done with ease. I watched as an angler unhooked his perch. Either it fit the size he desired and went into his bucket, or it was too small and needed to go back into the water. If the perch was smaller than he desired, he would drop the fish from waist level onto the pavement, then lightly kick it off the wall into the water.

I am not sitting in judgment of this person, it may not even be in his thought process that his actions could harm those fish. As responsible anglers, we should be committed to taking care of the fisheries that we love to spend our time on. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to bend down to properly release fish. Yet, it is our duty to return those fish safely to the water so they may grow, breed and cultivate the process of keeping our fisheries alive. That way, many generations can enjoy them as we do.

Treat every fish like a trophy

Social media, websites and magazines are abounding with photos and videos of people taking great care in the release of a record-size fish or of large breeding-sized fish. The same care should be given for any fish, no matter how small, returning to the water system. In reality, that small fish you are returning to the water, could end up being a state record catch for someone one day.

Now that we are standing on hard water, the same applies. Remind your buddies about properly handling and releasing fish. Be sure to have a firm grip on the fish you are handling, dropping a fish can injure or kill a fish—especially on pavement or ice. If you are going to take photos before releasing, be sure to return that fish to the water as quickly as possible.

It is important to pass on our passion and love for fishing, be sure to pass on conservation, as well. Children love to be outside, bring them fishing with you and teach them. Remember that they are watching you and learning from you, so also teach them the importance of caring for the fish and the waters they came from. So, enjoy your time on the ice, be safe, be kind to other anglers and to the fish—no matter how small, yet mighty they are.