Let’s stop the angling brick bats

Implementation of a catch and release limit would encourage anglers to share water and reduce the aggressive numbers competition.

Dear Sir:

In his recent letter on fishing, Dennis Therrien used “Big Brother”. What an offensive characterization! Was Dennis Therrien directing that phrase at our beleaguered, but competent provincial fisheries branch staff who manage the freshwater species in the Skeena region?

There was no trout fiasco in 2014 as a result of fishing regulations changes, learn the reasons why. The Northern Branch of the Steelhead Society of BC, which I currently chair, works with the fisheries branch to find solutions. Join the NB and sort out differences of opinion in the meeting room.

My interpretation of the “Oct. 29 Skeena Angler Column” is quite different from Dennis’s. Rob Brown said Skeena steelhead stocks are in trouble, not in dire straits. He made no reference to stocks doomed to extinction or that drastic action was required. He said that there should be a daily limit on the number of steelhead anglers release. I and many other anglers agree with such a regulation which understandably requires an angling community discussion.

Rob also talked about mishandling steelhead, a valid and important discussion. Many anglers, as far back as the 1970’s and early 1980’s when we owned and operated Jim’s Tackle Shop complained about the number of fishers who dragged steelhead and other salmon flopping up on gravel bars before and after catch and release became an integral part of managing steelhead.

A recent Irish study (Gargon et al 2013) said that sub-lethal impacts to Atlantic salmon can take place in 10 seconds when being held out of the water if the water temperature is over 12 degrees. He said catch and release of Atlantic salmon could affect the reproductive success of those fish. Warm water and air exposure can result in adult mortality.

The Northern Branch put forward a regulation proposal similar to the Washington State regulation which says do not hold a fish out of the water. Dennis is the first person I have heard express a concern over implementing such a motherhood regulation. There is nothing draconian about it nor would it be an imposition for anglers “in most instances” to carry out such a simple task. The idea, as much as possible, is to keep the head of a fish in the water. I agree, education is the way to gain angler support because it would be impossible to enforce such a regulation.

Why do we continue to argue over such logical and sensible conservation rules? Doesn’t it make sense to take the precautionary approach and minimize our catch and release impact?

I was an active guide for 15 years and never had an upset client over my request in later years to keep a fish in the water when taking a picture. I said to first time clients lower your expectations when fly fishing for steelhead. Catching one steelhead a day is a good day, more than one is a bonus. Some days many steelhead were caught and there were some days when none were hooked. Most of our business was from return clients.

It was rare for one client to land two steelhead early in the day. It would not have been an issue if the catch limit was two or four fish. We rotated anglers. The angler who landed the first fish went to the back of the line. The second angler got first crack at the next best lie and maybe a hookup. We never experienced a time when one angler caught all the fish.

A competent angler using a casting rod, float fishing, using rubber worms, egg imitations, spoons, spinners or salmon roe where it is allowed will typically catch many more steelhead than a fly fisher and often early in a day.

Implementation of a catch and release limit would encourage anglers to share water and reduce the aggressive numbers competition while being more careful handling a fish.

When the water temperature drops below three degrees it becomes difficult to catch steelhead on the fly unless one is using a weighted fly. Steelhead do not move far in cold water for a lure. Float fishers who are last to fish Copper River as late as there are ice flows, can put many fish to the beach, even at times one after another.

Comparing the number of steelhead in the Skeena system from the 1950’s until 2014 is a complex undertaking. Typically one would expect a professional analyst to provide the correct answers. My understanding is that the Skeena steelhead total stock abundance is down from those earlier decades when the commercial fishing power was huge. More than 1200 gillnetters fished Area 4 at the Skeena River mouth compared to less than 300 in 2014 and double the number of seine boats. There were many more commercial fishing days and fishing hours compared to 2014. It was legal to catch and kill steelhead which ended up in the cannery. It no longer is legal to kill steelhead.

The percentage of steelhead that now pass through the Tyee Test Fishery is much larger. It is like comparing apples with oranges. It is a wrong assumption that there are now more steelhead in the Skeena system compared with those earlier decades.

It is time to quit throwing brickbats and work together to conserve steelhead and other salmonids.

Jim Culp

Terrace, BC.