To Release or Not to Release?

That's become the question.

Fishing pressure on Montana’s rivers has reached a tipping point—such is our opinion, anyway. Given the increased numbers of fishermen and new data on catch-and-release fish mortality, does the current catch-and-release ethic need to be revisited? We asked two of our longstanding contributors and got very different results.

Throw ‘Em Back
During my fishing adventures, people have asked me why I put the fish back. Lately I reply, “I can’t catch a dead trout.” In my experience working at Bozeman trout shops since 1999, I find my response sums up the ethical perspective of most fly-fishing anglers, guides, and shop owners. When fought, landed, and released correctly, that trout might suffer a hole in its lip, and a 200-yard downstream relocation, but it will live, and go on to produce more of its feisty genetics. Most don’t want to kill such an exquisite creature. Some think about karma. Although Montana FWP adequately manages our fisheries, heavily pressured rivers like those surrounding Bozeman should be managed as catch-and-release-only fishing. I have enjoyed the taste of a cold Montana trout, but even more, I like casting dry flies to one as it sips PMDs in a soft summer film. —JEFF HOSTETLER

I get a little tired of the “holier than thou” attitude of some fisherfolk.“Catch-and-harass” can limit fish lifespan. And eating local trout is healthy. Those fish, particularly the big old ones, are going to die of something… so consider this: I pretty much fish to eat for everything except cutthroats—I want the natives to survive. If I bring one to the net, I release it as quickly and respectfully as possible. If I land a rainbow, and my mood is right, there’s a good chance it will be for dinner that very day. In addition, if it’s bleeding, and legal to keep, I’ll generally creel the fish. A big part of fishing is just to be on the water. If my butt is in a lawn chair or my feet are in the stream, it doesn’t matter if my hand holds a rod or a cold brew. Bottom line: the best and most ethical fisher is one who advocates for fish and habitat conservation, and who practices what he preaches. —KEN SINAY

fish cooking trout outside bozeman

Keepable Quotes
We posed our question online and got some interesting responses—like the one where the guy praises his own catch-and-release techniques, which are incorrect. Here’s a sampling.
“After I catch what I want to eat, I quit—12% mortality is too high. One of my local rivers here in Montana has up to 60,000 catchable trout per mile. The tourists release almost all of their catch.”
“No competent fisherman holds a fish out of the water for 60 seconds. If I don’t have the hook out in 10 seconds, I cut the leader.”
“Quit taking pictures and drink more beer!”