More On The Handling of Fish

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hBy CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA

Over the years, we have featured several articles designed to educate the average angler on the appropriate handing of fish — especially larger species. The response has been very positive and I now believe that most who fish our waters are taking that extra step to safely and carefully release fish. A most encouraging expression of this growing concern for the well being of our many prized species came from Capt. Jon Zorian, a contributor to this site and Vice President of the Boca Grande Guides Fishing  Association.

Mel,

Ron Taylor’s article on snook handling featured on your web site is of great interest to me as I have been a staunch critic of those who catch tarpon, hoist them out of the water with a gaff, hold them vertically for pictures and then think they are giving the fish a healthy release after all this activity.

What is so upsetting is to see how many of these pictures continually appear in saltwater fishing magazines.

At Boca Grande, our longtime traditional fishing guides, most of which belong to the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Assoc., firmly support and practice a clean release where the fish is never hoisted, handled or pulled from the water.

Research may not be completely clear on the damage, but it is thought by most longtime tarpon guides that the vertical hoisting of the fish does the following:

1. Can result in a broken back or neck

2. Keeps the fish out of the water far too long, especially after an exhausting fight, resulting in a lower chance for revival

3. Can result in the internal organs becoming dislodged towards the tail of the fish

Of course, all of these possibilities increase for the worst if the tarpon is actively moving or shaking.

I commend Ron for his article. We need the same respect and concern for tarpon.

Capt. Jon Zorian
Vice-president, BGFGA
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Dear Capt. Jon:

One of the most distressing aspects of producing this web site is seeing the great volume of photos I receive from anglers where they are shown holding very large fish in a vertical position – or gaff hook and drag into a boat protected, no-harvest species like the Goliath Grouper, and pose with  huge breeder redfish and snook.

But among the most disturbing picture I receive and frankly see widely published in many fishing magazines that profess to be conservationists, are those photos of  massive tarpon dragged unceremoniously with a gaff hook onto the fiberglass deck of the boat to pose with a bikini clad young lady.

Capt. Jon, I commend you and the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association for this strong and needed stand on the appropriate and safe handling of the giant silverkings.

Mel

REPLY:

Mel, 

The flats boat scene is pitiful when these poor fish, already totally exhausted from the fight (usually on light test line, which leaves them more spent) are then hoisted up for certain damage.

In my years of guiding at Boca Grande, I have never seen one of our guides pull a fish from the water.  The only time I’ve ever seen a tarpon in a guide boat was when one jumped in by accident from another boat’s hookup.  I’ve only seen that a few times.

Keep up the good work…your web site is always a premier place to visit.

 Jon

Here’s another response to the topic from Scott Kapocsi:

Captain Mel,

I read with interest and agreement the referenced article. In fact, I’m the guy in the photo holding the tarpon horizontally in the water. I can’t say that I always handled tarpon in this manner, but it didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that pulling a fish out of the water was not a good practice.

However, I take offense at the all inclusive “pitiful flats boat scene” that would lead an unknowing reader to believe that the operators of these types of boats all handled tarpon in the manner described. This is simply not the case. Sure, it happens……but not only by flats boats operators. A quick surf of the web will provide you with a photo of a former Director and current Charter Member of the Boca Grande Guides Association that is doing exactly what Mr. Zorian is distressed about (image attached). Other “handling” of tarpon is quite prevalent.

Hopefully, with the education that the article and Mr. Zorian’s response supplies, less and less of this type of handling will be seen on all boats.

Thanks for providing such a great web site.

Scott
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Dear Scott:

I agree that we cannot and shouldn’t paint every user group with the same brush. I do know this that Capt. Zorian is one of many Boca Grande guides leading their colleagues and others in the right direction – with a greater awareness of the need to handle our fish properly.

Yet, we should also take into account that he happens to be on one side of a contentious argument between traditional Boca Grande guides and those who jig for silverkings in the Pass from flats boats. Therefore, I suspect that Capt. Jon’s viewpoint could very well be colored by this internecine disagreement.

But you are right Scott, we cannot single out any group of anglers as totally uncaring for the safety of our fish.

Mel

And this from Jeff Williams

The only two fish I’ve seen specifically mentioned are snook and tarpon. I’m inferring that this practice is not good for any fish. What about grips like bogas or Rapalas? If they are just used to control the fish while leaving it in the water, are they actually better than landing nets which can strip slime from fish? I love catching fish and I love eating some of them, but I want the ones I release to live to fight and love (as much as fish can, especially when it results in more fish) another day.

Thanks,

Jeff Williams
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Dear Jeff:

You make some excellent points all of which most caring anglers would concur.

Mel.