I have spent time in the surf since I was a young boy. Now, over 30 years later, I have unfortunately been witness to a roller coaster ride when it comes to striped bass stocks. I lived through the lean years of the 80’s, when it seemed like catching a nice Striped Bass was a rarity akin to winning a Super Bowl. I lived through the moratorium which brought the Striped Bass fisheries of the east coast back from near collapse. This led to me having the pleasure of fishing through the 90’s when, due to the previous moratorium, my efforts were met with great numbers of quality fish. Now I, like you, am living through the current situation where Striped Bass stocks are, unfortunately, on the down turn once again.
Of course, we can find pockets of good Striped Bass fishing in certain areas, but overall, each of us needs to do our part to increase the overall numbers of fish. This is why I am such a proponent of catch and release. I know from experience what overfishing does. However, at the same time, I have seen what angler education and the implementation of the right conservation efforts can do, the positive impact it can have on the resurgence of a fish species.
People often ask me why I strictly practice catch and release. My response is “why not?” If that person wants to seriously discuss the matter, I ask them why do they fish? They often provide a wide range of answers- some do it to spend quality time with friends or family. Others consider it an escape. Others do it for the quiet time. Rarely has anyone told me they fish to eat. For me, for a lot of people I talk to, and for the many who will read this article, we fish because we love to fish, we love to feel the excitement of the tight line, and have that hope of catching the fish of a lifetime. For me fishing is no different than Sunday morning softball or a flag football league game is for those who play. You do it every chance you get because you want to have some fun, hang out with friends, and escape the pressures and hustle bustle of the real world. You don’t
participate in these pursuits to take home the game ball. So why not treat the Striped Bass like the game ball- leave them there to play with next week and the week after that (especially the large breeding fish).
By no means am I suggest that you should never keep a fish but I ask you to consider whether you need to keep a legal Striped Bass every time you catch one. I often wonder how many “keeper” fish get thrown out after spending some time in the freezer. Actually, I have a problem with term “keeper fish” because it implies you should keep the fish- even if there is really no need. I prefer the term “legal fish” much better. It gives the impression you caught a nice fish without implying you should keep it. Laws permit anglers to keep Striped Bass of a certain size, but every one should really consider whether it is really necessary to kill a large breeder class Striper every day in certain areas of the northeast just because the law allows it. I have witnessed such excess and to me it is obscene. How much fish can one family really eat?
Fortunately, we live in a time where technology can be our best friend. We can use technology to be a best friend to the Striped Bass as well. We all have those little computers called smart phones. Before smart phones, I admit that in order to get a great picture or show off your catch you pretty much had to take the fish home or take it back to the dock. A fisherman should be proud when they catch a nice fish. So use the available technology to document it and release it- a practice I like to call “CPR”- Catch, Photo & Release. It is really awesome to catch a nice fish, but I get even more of a good feeling when I see that fish swim away, especially those big breeders- a fish that has probably been swimming around for more than 15 years. You will always have that picture to remind you of how good it was to catch that fish and that same photo will also let you relive the joy of releasing that fish to fight another day. Let them go! Let them grow! Let them reproduce! Live the Passion and Tight lines!