Lasting Impressions: How Do Fish React Post-Catch?

Excerpt from a recent bar conversation with someone who doesn’t fish:  “How do they (the fish) feel after you release them; do you think they remain frightened? Even if they don’t remember it, is it a suppressed thing, like PTSD?”

This question metaphorically shattered my skull and sent cerebrospinal fluid splattering all over the walls of that dimly lit dive bar. Do we unknowingly ruin fish lives? Do we not only scare the piss out of them, but also make them randomly fly into fits of rage leading to drunk in public charges or things like “Indecent Exposure” stamped on their permanent records? Should I just stop fly fishing altogether? Should I join PETA? Perhaps a little extreme, but after several rounds these seemed like legitimate thoughts. Let’s be real, I love to fly fish. I will continue to fly fish. However, it never hurts (in hypothesis) to understand the outcomes associated with said activity.

In your spare time, educate yourself about how hooking, fighting, and landing a fish looks from the other end of the line. If I were in the fish’s position I would, as best, call the experience rather traumatic – if not all together fucking crazy. However, a human’s genetic makeup looks quite different from our aquatic friends. So, maybe this experience isn’t so bad after all? Maybe they soon forget about it and move on? Probably wishful thinking, but who knows.

Google searches on the subject bring back hits related to human health and fish oil supplements. Other popular results deal with stressing fish by cramming too many into a fish tank. The latter might be a cool research topic, but not directly related to our discussion here. In fact, having searched the depths of the internet – I’m talking page three of a Google search, deep – I found nothing of a direct relation. Anyone out there looking for a cool research topic, feel free to use this as your brain child…You’re welcome.

So, where do we draw the line with respect to responsible fishing edict? That’s a rather relative question depending on whom you ask. Some see nothing wrong with treble hooks, spotlights, fighting the fish till exhaustion, long out-of-water exposure for the perfect grip’n’grin, etc… while others will get after you for killing an invasive predator species whose presence threatens ecosystems. The same can be said for just about any hobby related to wildlife. Should the ornithologists even take photos of rare birds for fear of scaring them off their nest? The animal kingdom is savage…

Therefore, should we observe it from a safe distance, or dive right in? Same here as above, with no clear cut answer. I for one, will take the plunge. The thrill of Mother Nature excites me much more while experiencing her first hand. Sitting on a couch all day just doesn’t do  it for me. However, know what you’re getting into. Know the regs and safe handling practices. Know the spawning habits of the fish you’re targeting and know their biology. Although searches about fish PTSD came up empty handed, the internet provides tons of species specific info.

So, study up, and learn a thing or two! Also, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid tough philosophical questions while consuming lots of alcohol. Nothing good ever comes from it. Save those questions for a rainy day. Actually, don’t; grab the fly rod and go fishing instead.


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