Keeping or releasing that big fish
By: Kirby Desha for The News Messenger
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The subject of catch-and-release is an ongoing debate within the fishing community and it heats up every year during the season for striped bass. Reports showing guys holding up huge fish will invariably be followed by the question “Did you keep it or release it?” 

Every angler wants that trophy-sized fish. After all, the bigger the fish the better the angler, right?

Sometimes, this pursuit of size gets out of control where anything under 10 pounds is barely considered worth a photo. In the world of striper fishing we regularly see fish going 20-30 or even 40 pounds; here is where the controversy begins.

According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Rules, there are no restrictions on keeping big fish (sturgeon size-limit the exception). Technically, there is nothing wrong with keeping a monster, but does legal make it right?

Some argue no because prevailing wisdom says larger females should be released. The assumption is they will lay millions of eggs over their lifetime and help preserve the sport for future anglers. While this theory may seem logical, scientific studies may not support it.

Bigger, older fish can have a lesser percentage of viable eggs, while the greater population of smaller, younger fish will likely spawn in far greater numbers.

Taste and safe eating are other considerations in keeping a big fish. Older fish living in the delta for years usually have higher levels of mercury and the meat is not as tasty as a younger fish in the 3-5-pound range.

I am somewhere in the middle of the discussion. It bothers me to see guys keep huge fish, but it is their choice. Personally, I feel a sense of awe and respect for these big fish.

After these fish survive years in the delta and rivers, dodging both predators and hooks, who am I to end their life?

I believe there is evidence fish do not feel pain the same as humans. According to neurobiologists, behavioral ecologists and fishery scientists, fish do not have the neuro-physiological capacity for pain.

If you plan to release a fish, keep it in the water for a long as possible while working to remove the hook. When ready, snap a quick photo and then release it.

Hold the fish near the tail and gently move it back and forth to get water flowing through the gills. Sadly, the strain of getting hooked and battling to the boat can sometimes stress a fish to the point it may not survive.

As hard as they fight, striped bass are surprisingly fragile; unlike spotted bass. A bleeding fish should probably be kept, as long as it’s legal size.