Now that the season is open, it’s time to remind all you angling folks a few things about catch-and-release. I hope you all know by now that Mille Lacs is catch-and-release for walleye (and right now there is a catch-and-release season for bass as well until May 23), so this means you should handle them differently after catching them. The operative word in catch-and-release is “release” – this means the fish is supposed to survive after being released. If you are going to release a fish, the number one thing is to avoid over-handling it or keeping it out of the water for a long time.
The best way to catch-and-release a fish is to reach over the side of the boat and unhook it with minimal handling. If you are going to net it, don’t bring the fish in the boat and lay it on the floor and let it flop all over the place – remember the fish is supposed to live after you release it. Leave the fish in the net, over the side of the boat (preferably still in the water) and grab it, unhook it, and let it go. If the hook is in the stomach, cut the line at the mouth – don’t yank it out. That will be certain death.
Have your tools handy when fishing as well. Don’t grab the fish and then run around the boat looking for a pliers. The best way to hold a walleye is to slide a couple fingers just inside the gill cover – but don’t put your fingers in the actual gills. Or grab it across the back just behind the gill covers. Just watch out for the back spines. They’ll leave a mark.
If you’re going to photograph a fish to be released, be prepared. Don’t wait until the fish is unhooked and the angler is standing there with it to dig out and fire up your camera – be ready. And don’t take 10 pictures of it from every angle. The best part about Mille Lacs is you will catch a lot of walleye, and you don’t need a picture of every one.
If you’re going to keep the fish, none of this matters because it’s going to die anyway. But catch-and-release fishing is very different than catch and kill fishing, so please remember that the next time you plan to release a fish.
Loose lines and tight lips, Wally