images/voice_uploads/FishermanCirc.gif">With honor-system-style catch-and-release trophy-fish recognition programs, states in the Southern Appalachian region are allowing anglers to receive a memento of a memorable catch, without killing a fish in the process.
Anglers in North Carolina, for instance, can obtain a memorable fish citation by sending in a picture of the fish or a statement of the catch signed by a witness, said Bob Curry, fisheries program manager for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
This year, West Virginia became the most recent state in the region to launch a similar program designed to make obtaining an official state document to commemorate a memorable catch easier for both angler and fish. Previously, obtaining a trophy citation for a fish usually meant driving some distance to a set of certified scales for verification.
“We’ve had a number of requests from people who have said ‘I don’t want to kill my fish,’” said Brett Preston, who manages warm-water fisheries for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Obtaining trophy citation for a fish without killing the creature used to require a well thought-out, quickly executed plan— rushing a large fish from the water to a certified scale and back before it succumbed to stress. Bass have been transported in water coolers chilled with a little ice to slow the fish’s metabolism. Less sensitive fish, such as catfish, have been easier to transport- simply wrapping them in a wet towel normally will see them through the trip.
Bernie Dowler, who retired as deputy director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources last October, said that while he worked as a fish biologist in the 1970s, he saw some fish brought in for certfication in all kinds of containers, including a discarded inner tube an angler cut open and filled with water.
Trout, however, rarely survive such trips. Trout taken for certification normally ended up in on a dinner plate with ramps and lemon juice. That’s kept many trout anglers, such as Joe Webb, vice president of the Parkersburg W.Va.-based Blennerhassett Chapter of Trout Unlimited, from obtaining a citation for exceptional trout.
“If I wanted a citation for a trout I would just figure on filleting that dude after I got him weighed,” Webb said.
While the programs make catch and release more feasible, they weren’t necessarily designed to do that. One of the most basic principals upon which the American style of wildlife management was founded was that water and wildlife belong to the people and the government serves only to ensure the those resources are maintained. More simply, with the exception of designated catch and release areas, states don’t care what anglers do with a legally-caught fish.
Those taking advantage of the programs both keep and release fish. For those who harvest fish, the programs simply remove the hassle, Curry said.
“It’s your fish. You can do whatever you want with it. The program is not geared for catch and release. Some keep, some release. There’s nothing that says this is for catch and release only,” Curry said.
Before the program was implemented this year anglers throughout West Virginia were often faced with choosing between a living fish and a trophy citation, but in the state’s catch and release designated areas, the government had made that decision for them.
Areas such as the Muskellunge catch and release area of Middle Island Creek or Stonewall Jackson Lake had produced monster musky, but no citation fish. Even if the fish was large enough for a citation, state law required it to be placed back in the water, not taken away to the nearest certified scales. The same situation applied to numerous trout catch and release areas.
”With the catch and release areas in places like Stonewall (Jackson Lake), they never could get a citation. Now they just have to take a quick photo or measure it with a witness and turn it loose. We’ve certainly been getting a lot more musky (citation requests), since we started,” Preston said.
Following in Virginia’s footsteps, West Virginia now charges for all citations, whether verified by a biologist or simply requested by mail, Preston said.
”For 20 years, the program has been provided free. The bottom line is the programs take money away from fish management, but there’s no benefit to the fisheries, it’s strictly for angler recognition,” Preston said.
Officials can usually tell whether a fish is citation-worthy or not by looking at the picture. After all, they study wildlife for a living.
”We can determine how big it is from the photo. Really, you don’t even have to have that, if you send in a signature. You can just measure it and have somebody witness it,” Preston said.
West Virginia has had nearly 600 applications submitted in the first six months of the new program.
Anglers who hope their catch will eclipse a state record still need to take their fish to a biologist for certification, Preston said.
Officials are even seeing some of those state-record-contending fish released back into the water as catch and release becomes more popular. One of the more memorable instances occurred three years ago, when Kevin Dameron of Matheny, W.Va. caught a 4.77-pound spotted bass in R.D. Bailey Lake in Southern West Virginia.
Dameron emptied a large beverage cooler, filled it with cool lake water and used it as a makeshift live to transport his bass for state record certification.
Though Dameron’s fish bested the state record by nearly a pound, the fish never made it onto a wall. Dameron returned to the lake and released the fish and anglers hope to again hook the largest spotted bass ever caught in West Virginia.
While West Virginia may be the newest state to implement some sort of honor-system trophy citation program, its mother state was the first. Virginia launched its program in the 1960s and has tailored it with the changing times. The program won a national award in the late 1990s.
Whether the original idea in Richmond was to recognize anglers while allowing them to practice catch and release or to simply save them the hassle of transporting a fish to a set of certified scales, it was an idea that has been copied by several other states.
About 8,000 memorable catches are sent into Virginia’s Angler Recognition Program each year, said Linda Stone, program manger.
”We certainly get a lot of compliments,” Stone said.
While adults pay a $4 fee for each application, those under 16 years of age receive their first citation for each species free.
North Carolina also modeled its program from Virginia’s, Curry said. North Carolina is also working on a separate program for younger anglers, he said.
Contact Dave Payne Sr. via e-mail at email@example.com.