How to Be a Sustainable Fisherman

Jul 13, 2021

If you love to fish, or even if you just have a mild crush on fishing, then your choice is pretty simple. You must be a responsible fisherman. The future is in your hands.

The good news is it really isn’t very tough to be a sustainable, leave-no-trace-behind kind of angler. If you can just follow a couple of simple steps, you’ll not only help save one of the High Sierra’s most important natural resources, you’re bound to catch a lot of fish while you’re at.           

Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute

There’s an old saying that trout live in beautiful places. And this is certainly true here in the Eastern Sierra—at least it is until we come along and trash the places.  Anglers like us leave fishing line, beer cans, worm containers, candy bar wrappers and all kinds of trash strewn across the places we fish. Instead of following the “Leave No Trace Behind” mantra, we often leave the place looking like a garbage can.

All this trash negatively impacts the pristine environment trout and their fellow mountain species need to survive. So it’s high time all of us anglers stopped treating Mother Nature like she’s Oscar the Grouch. And it’s especially important that we teach our kids to treat the great outdoors well and not like a garbage can.

Pack in and pack out all your trash, even micro-garbage like chewing gum, cigarette butts and extra line. The goal of any good angler should be that after we’re done fishing, only the trout should know we were there.

Take Only What You Need

While most of us enjoy a fresh trout dinner every now and again, especially by a campfire snuggled high in the Sierra, we can only eat so much. You don’t have to reach your bag limit or fill up your creel to call it a great day. Sometimes photographs and memories are the most fulfilling rewards.

So take only what you need or will use before it suffers from freezer burn buried behind the Klondike bars in the icebox. Properly releasing trout not only gives the fish a chance to grow bigger and to reproduce, it also gives you a chance to catch it again.

Keep `em Wet

Trout are more resilient than they are tough. If you give trout a fighting chance, they do pretty well. When you manhandle them like you’re in a Mixed Martial Arts match, they tend to struggle.

More and more anglers are turning to catch and release methods for a variety of reasons.  This is good news for the fish, and for us fishing fanatics, because it helps sustain healthy trout populations and takes some burden off the over-burdened state hatchery system.

The “Keep ‘Em Wet” movement is the essence of what catch and release fishing is really all about. It promotes releasing fish in the best possible ways to reduce the impacts of angling worldwide. Tips for doing so include:

  • Use nets, preferably rubber nets because they create less friction than other types.  Nets reduce handling and allow the fish to stay in the water while you remove the hook or prepare for a picture.
  • Handle fish with wet hands and with care. It is easy to remove a trout’s protective slime covering or damage a trout’s internal organs by squeezing too hard. Gills and mouths are sensitive areas as well so trout don’t like being handled the way bass do. Trout need a more delicate touch and sometimes require time to be revived. Gently holding trout into the current or moving them slowly in figure 8s will usually enliven them enough to swim away.
  • Take photos over and close to water. Trout are slippery and it’s never a good idea to drop one on the boat floor or on rocks along the bank. Keeping them close to, and in the water, is the best way to handle trout.
  • Be prepared to take your picture before you bring the fish up out of the water. As some old guides will advise, only hold them out of the water for as long as you can hold your breath.  Basically, treat trout and their homes the way you’d want to be treated.

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Mike McKenna

Award-winning author and journalist Mike McKenna is the writer behind the new book Casting Around the Eastern Sierra, which was recently awarded runner-up in the Outdoor Writers Association of California's Best Outdoor Guidebook category. The book focuses on fishing in Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area, with tips and tricks from local experts.

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