There is something deeply satisfying about catching a sizeable fish, handling it as if it were something valuable, getting some quality pictures, and watching it swim away healthy to spawn or perhaps be caught and released again. If you follow us on social media (@eyestrikefishing), you know that conservation and sustainability in our fisheries are very important to us. My motivation for this stance has always been that I want my grandchildren to enjoy a better fishery than I do. I’ve been to northern Quebec where the fishing is almost untouched by humans and its incredible to be able to experience today what a fishery was like before overfishing. Rather than lecture people on conservation, I try to lead by example in hopes of inspiring others to do likewise.
If you’ve lived in Charleston for at least 10 years, you know that our population increase has really put a strain on our roads in the form of traffic jams. This is mirrored on our waterways as can be witnessed on any given weekend with boat landings at over-capacity, sand bars full, and almost every semi-obvious fishing spot being hammered all day long.
Pressure on our fisheries is at unprecedented levels and increasing daily. Not just with population growth, but also improvements in technology such as side-scan sonar as well as an abundance of fishing tutorials and advice on YouTube and social media. However, our capacity for fisheries abundance is at-best fixed, and more likely diminishing with coastal development and pollution.
Should we be surprised that numbers of fish such as flounder, red drum, and speckled trout are on the decline? Our catch and creel limits are simply not keeping up with reality. I think everyone’s idea of what a good fishery is, is relative. For example, I’ve fished in Charleston for 15 years and I’ve noticed a decline. But my business partner Ralph Phillips has fished here for 50 years – and the stories he tells of what it used to be like are almost unbelievable in today’s world. We need to listen carefully to folks like Ralph who have witnessed it firsthand.
I realize this seems like “Doom and Gloom” but I believe there’s hope to ensure our grandchildren have something to catch in the future. What can we all do, today, to make a difference? We can set our own personal catch and creel limits that are more restrictive than the law allows.
I made a personal commitment about 8 years ago that I would observe an upper-slot of 20” for speckled trout. When I would catch one over 20”, I would take a pic and describe on social media and forums that I released it and why. Over time, I have had many people including some I have never met before say they do it too because they read my posts.
There are many compelling reasons to release larger fish. Some reasons specific to speckled trout:
- Almost all trout over 20” are female
- 20” trout are rare; They are approximately 4 years old. If you start with 1000 trout at year 0, its estimated that 8 will remain after 4 years
- Egg production increases exponentially with larger trout. A 20” trout releases around 20 million eggs annually
- Probably superior genetics allowed a trout to reach 20”. Maybe it was resistance to cold, resistance to disease, or simply that they grew faster – its important to let these fish pass on these genetics through spawning
I was discussing my personal upper slot on the Eastern Current podcast (https://youtu.be/uSG6KIrjDv0) recently and Joe Neely from CCA North Carolina was listening. We had some discussions and decided to formalize this concept into what we are calling Release Over 20”. We are proud to say it will be a major initiative for CCA in North Carolina (https://ccanc.org/whatisro20/) and we are hoping that we can even make an impact on a national level.
We are not saying to release all fish. We ourselves enjoy a few fish for dinner, but let’s carefully handle and release the big ones. Another obvious benefit of releasing big fish, is more larger fish to catch for recreational anglers. Who wouldn’t want to catch more “gator” trout and doormat flounder?
Not all will agree, but if you do, we would love you to follow our Instagram page @releaseover20 and get a sticker to display at eyestrikefishing.com. The stickers are sold at cost. Through our social media we will have some great incentives to participate – for example, we have already given away a free fishing charter to one lucky winner.
If we can get enough people to buy in to Release Over 20”, I believe we can make a noticeable difference, not just in Charleston, but around the country. I hope you will join us.
I’ll close with a quotation sent by Joe at CCA NC that is appropriate to our initiative:
“Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal” – Aldo Leopold
See you on the water, but not on Saturday!