Coming Full Circle
By now most serious fisherman practice catch and release; some because of their concern for our fisheries, others fearing hefty fines from wildlife officers. I enjoy seafood and love taking something home for dinner. Reviving a fish after a good fight and releasing it gives me a pretty good feeling as well. The fact that there has been a comeback in species that just werent being caught is evidence of the success of efforts to improve and conserve those fish stocks. Our states net ban, artificial reef and hatchery programs, and seasonal fishing restrictions are finally paying off. A big part of it has been size and bag limit regulations that are part of our sport. Thats our role as sport fishermen in the whole scheme of things.
Catch and release only works if those fish we release get to keep living and growing. If it dies after it has been released then weve failed miserably. Reaching in to remove our hook from a gut or gill hooked fish before releasing it is sentencing it to a slow death. In the animal kingdom, we are the only ones who come to the rescue of the weak and the sick. In the ocean, being sick or weak means you are an easy meal and all by yourself. And dont think that if it becomes a meal for another fish you are helping the natural food cycle. Having survived its experience with you, that fish might have gone on to grow and bear young. Thats the whole idea behind catch and release. Giving that fish a chance to mature, reproduce and maybe even be caught by another angler once its actually big enough to provide a worthwhile meal or challenging fight.
Thats where circle hooks make a big difference. Fish a circle hook and removing that hook will be a cinch, even if youre bottom fishing with a chunk of dead bait. When a fish swallows the bait it will sense the line through its mouth and swim away. The hook will slide out its stomach pass the gills and engage itself in the fishs mouth. Taking the hook out of its mouth will be quick and relatively pain free. Ive been on a couple of charter boats in the Naples area that target primarily Red Grouper. These guys will always use circle hooks. They can measure that fish and release it in no time if its undersized. Many tarpon fisherman are also using these hooks. Tarpon fishing is almost exclusively a catch and release deal so these hooks are ideal. These guys are really picky about their hooks. Tarpon are well known for their ability to throw hooks with their wild jumps and head thrashing. A well-sharpened circle hook will get the job done. Sailfish, one of the Florida Keys most sought after sportfish, are also being caught on these hooks. The Miami Billfish competition will be an all circle hook tournament this season. If youve ever been on a boat where a billfish has been caught, you know how hard it is to land and release them. A bill hooked fish makes that job a lot easier and safer.
I have never been one to try the latest fad. Im one of those who thinks if it aint broke, dont fix it. Messing around with time-tested methods is not my idea of fun. But I am very interested in making sure my son and his kids can enjoy fishing here in South Florida and the Keys as much as I have. And I know that my example to him will be set in his mind as the right thing to do. If catch and release is the little part that I, as an individual can do, I want to do it right. If I know that using Circle hooks is going to give those fish I release a chance to make it, then Im there.
Fishing circle hooks is simpler than it looks. You dont set the hook. The fish will do that for you. You dont pump or reel in quickly when you feel a bite. Let the fish hook itself. Im still learning myself but I can tell you that they really do work. Its just hard to resist the temptation of setting that hook. I must admit though, that Ive lost some fish because of my inexperience in the hook setting. Ive reeled in or pumped up a bit to soon and actually taken the bait of the fishs mouth. Its important to hook your bait in a way that the hook isnt so covered up. It should be in such a way that the hook itself will be exposed easily. If its lodged deeply in your bait it might not do its job correctly. Im trying to fish as much as I can with them so I can learn how to use them correctly. Sensing the bite and knowing how to react to a strike will be something that will improve with time on the water.
Id like to hear comments from others who are using these hooks. I need advice on this myself and Im sure there are others who are interested. Ill be doing some research and try and educate myself further on circle hooks and Ill pass it on to you in a later column. So stay tuned to our monthly Islamorada Sportfishing Newletters. Take the time to actually read and educate yourself and it might actually help get you on fish. Meanwhile Ive got to get out there and do some circle hook fishing; gotta learn the ropes you know!!!
Tightlines from Waldo DoubleTreble Tejera Jr.
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