Grip and grin

One of the reasons I don’t buy fishing magazines anymore is because they are full of fishing porn, the most ubiquitous form being the infamous Grip and Grin, those tedious portraits of fishermen flashing their teeth as they hoist an exhausted fish aloft.

One of the reasons I don’t buy fishing magazines anymore is because they are full of fishing porn, the most ubiquitous form being the infamous Grip and Grin, those tedious portraits of fishermen flashing their teeth as they hoist an exhausted fish aloft. I defy you to find a fishing magazine that hasn’t at least a couple of these tableaux. Most will have one for a cover shot.

In the bygone age when even fisheries biologists were under the illusion that trout and salmon stocks were far more robust than they really were, hoisting a fish for the camera wasn’t a significant problem because the fish so hoisted would be as dead as a door knocker. In contrast, hoisting is now a serious problem for the simple reason that lifting a creature with gills into the air has the same effect as sticking the head of a creature with lungs into water. Both begin to drown, which, as anyone who has fought for air will tell you, is a stressful experience.

Salmonids are slimy because slime protects them and helps them slip through the water. This feature makes them slippery and hard to hold. This explains why the fishers in those grip and grin shots are caught with one hand firmly squeezing their hapless quarry in the area just back of its  pectoral fins, where it exerts pressure on vital organs, as the other hand exerts a death grip on the fish’ wrist. You can bet that very few of this happy anglers has immersed their hands in the water before hauling their catches out of it. As a consequence of this omission, some protective slime will have been removed during the photo op leaving the affected areas vulnerable to fungus or some other kind of disease.

So why take a picture at all? Presumably because pictures have supplanted the fish as trophies of the sport.

When the directors of the Northern Branch of the Steelhead Society of BC met last year to discuss what proposals ought to be taken to the Ministry of Environment’s Sport Fishing Advisory Committee, we agreed that the old Grip’n’Grin was becoming far too common and decided that we would propose to the fisheries division of Ministry of the Environment that a new regulation be struck that prohibited removing fish from the water before releasing them. Additionally, we proposed that  the middle section of the Sportfishing Regulation Synopsis be devoted to the least invasive ways to release fish.

Some of the impetus for this proposal came Andrew Williams, who has fished for salmon in Eastern Canada and was familiar with the regulations covering salmon fishing in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. At Andrew’s suggestion, I checked those regulations and discovered that unlike us, the Easterners know the value of a salmon. In Newfoundland, for example, the only legal way to angle for salmon is with an unweighted artificial fly dressed on a single barbless hook. In contrast to BC, where we conduct a discount fishery that allows anyone access to the best salmon fishing in the world for a little over a hundred bucks, the Newfies won’t let any non-residents (including other Canadians) access to salmon without a guide or a direct relative.

When it comes to handling salmon, the regulations in Newfoundland and Labrador are very restrictive.

In extreme environmental conditions such as low water levels and high water temperatures, catch and release is prohibited. There are also restrictions on how many fish a fisher can release. When the quota of four fish is reached, the angler must cease fishing.

When using a landing net a fisher must use one with knotless cotton mesh, as it is less harmful to fish scales, gills and eyes. Salmon anglers must use leaders heavy enough to bring in large salmon quickly, or light enough to allow large salmon to break off.

The regulations instruct an angler to move to a quiet water location to land a fish, and to keep the entire salmon underwater as much as possible. Dragging a fish up on the beach is prohibited.   The regulations instruct the angler to handle the salmon gently avoiding contact with it. When it is time to remove the hook the angler is cautioned to remove the hook gently with pliers or with his thumb and forefinger. If the hook must be left in, he is told to cut the leader as close to it as possible.

Support the fish under the belly, the regulations state, keeping it in an upright position, underwater and facing into the current.

A photo is allowed at this point, but the fish must remain in the water.

In Newfoundland the grip and grin provokes a frown.