I'll come to the point: I have changed my mind about a once unquestioned fishing ethic.
Like most fly-fishermen I had unswervingly supported the traditional "Catch and Release" ethic for decades. Lee Wulff espoused it and that was good enough for me. But now I'm dumping it.
Bear with me. Let's present a few facts.
The first thing I had to realize is that most of our country's ecology is nearly devastated, it has been nearly devastated for decades and it's probably only going to get worse. I've come to this realization by decades of study, research and travel; first reading about the tortured history of fishing in Michigan and then other states. Consequently, the second thing I realized is that almost every hunt-able animal and fish-able fish is now "managed" by a State wildlife department. For example: from whitetail deer to crows to trout, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) is "committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations" (source: MDNR mission statement). And, in the name of the public (that's you and me), the MDNR has set up an enormous assemblage of staff, management units, regulations, licensing, etc., etc., to ensure the use and enjoyment of the state's game and wildlife. And they'll create that wildlife if they have to.
All trout are aesthetically stunning, but so are wood ducks and they're tasty too.
Alas, for trout unlimited (uncapitalized "tu") we can thank Michigan's DNR for the state's unlimited trout. The massive state operated fish research and production system (i.e. hatcheries) that cultivates rainbow, brown, brook trout, splake, steelhead and salmon staggers the imagination and their fish-farming and stocking efforts in Michigan's lakes, streams and rivers dates back more than 100 years. Think of it as a business.
The third thing I have known for years (and common sense tells us) is that a body of water can only support a limited number of fish. So how do you help manage that number? (which is the State wildlife department's job, who would rather be criticized for over-stocking than under-stocking). You simply put appropriate creel limits in place that allow fish to be taken out of the population before they starve to death or die of disease. Those "Daily Possession Limits" in the fishing regs exist for a reason, especially for over-stocked and often overpopulated waters.
Don't get me wrong - the old "Catch and Release" mantra is fine and it's still going strong. Do it if you like to preserve trout and believe "trout are too pretty to keep". There's no argument from me that all trout are aesthetically stunning, - but so are wood ducks and they're tasty too. The C&R practice, in all due honesty, benefits mostly one culture group: the Fishing Guide.
So, here's my revised reasoning:
1) IF a stream is not designated a quality catch and release stretch of water and has a Daily Possession Limit of at least one trout
2) IF the water is stocked by a State wildlife department (is not a self-sustaining population), has a published creel limit and is open to catch and keep
3) IF discussions with friends in-the-know concur that keeping a trout or two will actually benefit the stream's trout population
I will, from now on keep trout for their extreme culinary taste. You heard it. I'm going to eat 'em! And guess what? I'll enjoy eating them with a clear blue conscience. - WES:::