Fish Tagging – What I’ve Learned

South Carolina has one of the nation’s best recreational fish tagging programs thanks to our Department of Natural Resources.  To be a tagger, you simply need to ask, and in order to save money and make sure you’re committed, you need to purchase your own tagging gun for about $30.  I’ve done it now for about 5 years, and although I don’t tag every fish I could, I usually average between 80 and 150 fish a year.  The link above will take you to the tagging page.

One of the main purposes for having a recreational tagging program is to encourage catch and release, and for anglers to self-educate themselves on the fishery.  In my case, I have learned a lot.  In fact, I had a catch yesterday that reiterated some things, and thus caused me to write this post.

Yesterday, I caught a nice redfish with multiple spots, approximately 27.75″ long.  It had an old rec tag covered in growth.  I had an idea it might have been one of “my” fish based on where it was tagged.  I always tag them on the left side and in a particular location.  I also keep my own copy of the tagging reports that I send in, and when I got home I looked it up.  It was, in fact, one of the fish I tagged.  It was tagged almost two years ago to the day at just 15″ long (1 year old) and in the exact same place, or within 1/4 mile anyway.    

This fish was tagged by me 2 years ago at 15″. It is now 27.75″ and released to catch again.

So, what does this say about the impact we as anglers can have on a fishery?  Well, obviously, redfish are creatures of habit.  They return to the same place year after year.  Often on the same piece of structure.  This time of year, the fish tend to bunch up in tight groups of 50 to hundreds of fish.  People who fly fish the flats can see the schools visually.  In the areas we fish, we can’t see them because they are in deeper, more murky water.  Its become clear to me that if a particular spot were heavily fished in winter time and most people kept their limit each day they fished there, it wouldn’t take very long to completely clean out a location of all the fish there.  Now, I will occasionally keep a redfish or two for a meal, but certainly not a limit every time I fish.  I’d much rather have a fish like this one to catch in the future than a meal in the short term.  

Catch and release can even have monetary reward, as Ralph and I found out a couple years ago.  We were fishing a local redfish tourney and Ralph caught a “line-painter”, which is a perfect tourney-fish.  Right at 23″, our upper limit in SC.  It was tagged, and come to find out I had tagged and released that fish 6 months before.  We ended up winning $1000 big-fish money for that one!  

Note that if you have never caught a tagged fish, that if you catch one, to take down the tag number and date and make a careful measurement of its length by pinching the tail.  You can call the info in or submit online.  When you report the info, you can opt to receive a gift in the form of a T shirt, visor, towel, buff, etc.  You will also get a report of the tag and recapture history of “your” fish.  Please release it to continue the research.

Next time you’re on a hot redfish bite in the winter time, please consider releasing them for the future.  And, maybe start tagging them yourself!


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