Conservation Essay

To Fish or Not to Fish?

Opinion by Andy Vinnes

I can only assume that many of you have battled with this topic or dilemma before, to some there is a simple answer, but not to all. To this day I continue to ask myself and contemplate when is it ok to fish for fish?

Sounds silly, I know, but obviously you should comply with local regulations, have a current fishing license and or stamp for the region your fishing, and yes it should obviously be open season for the specific species you’re after etc.

Let me start by going back many years in my own fishing life. I grew up on the move, as in moving to several states as a child and young man. I think I learned to fish like most people did. We would go camping or hiking in the outdoors and we just fished, it seemed like the natural thing to do. I had a rod and reel, a small tackle box which was filled with hooks, sinkers maybe some swivels, of course a rusty pair of needle nose pliers and possibly an old lure or two that you found hanging from a tree or borrowed from your old man’s tackle box. I think mine may have always had at least one old dried up worm as well as some nasty dried salmon eggs as well.  Regardless I was a fisherman and, in my mind, a good one.

I grew up fishing on lakes, mostly from the shore or off a dock, and when lucky enough from a boat. Never really fishing in rivers or creeks, I recalled wondering how fish could be in there with the water moving as fast as it was. If I only knew then what I know now. I recall catching literally thousands of bluegills as a young kid, I still enjoy catching them. As I grew up and we moved around I have lots of memories of catching crappie, perch, sunfish, northern pike, and trout. As a kid I always wanted to keep my fish and eat them, which we did a lot. I can only imagine how many fish died due to the damage I caused from a barbed hook. Back then I had no idea about the concept of catch and release or using barbless hooks; unfortunately, these were lessons I learned later in life.

My journey as a child and as a fisherman took me from California, where I recall fishing at places like Lake Pardee, then to Colorado where I have memories of fishing the Estes Park area, then to Illinois where I fished many lakes including the chain of lakes in northern Illinois, and then on into Wisconsin.

As time went on I found myself a college graduate moving to California. It took some time, but the Sierra Nevada mountain range was my home away from home. As far as fishing etiquette, I was still rather raw and uneducated. I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t really until about ten years ago that I truly “upped my game” and became aware of nature and its impact on me as a person. I began to understand the concept of catch and release and just being a good conservationist. For example, bring out more than you brought in, help preserve fish in their habitats, so others can enjoy them as you and your family and friends have. To many people California is a considered an over-regulated state, and this can be very true when it comes to the outdoors, especially for someone who enjoys being outdoors doing things in nature, such as fishing. 

Andy Vinnes - To Fish or not to Fish - Rainbow

Approximately four years ago I discovered tenkara fishing and how well it fit into my life as an outdoorsman. It’s really been a blessing as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to argue with fly fisherman, many of whom seem to be offended every time tenkara is mentioned in the same sentence with fly fishing. The argument is beyond me and I frankly just don’t pay attention anymore. I believe tenkara is tenkara, you either like it or you don’t. Just fish on. Let’s get down to the meat and potatoes, or should we say, fish. I have several friends who are “western fly fisherman.” They are not interested in tenkara, and we are still friends. 

Some of my good friends fish for trout during the spawn, I’ve always been jealous of the pictures I see of them with some huge fish. After talking to not only my friends but others with fishing knowledge I became aware of a big debate. To fish or not to fish?

I spoke to a friend who happens to be a fishing guide in the beautiful Eastern Sierra. He enlightened me as best he could. He explained that many fishing guides will take clients to breeding grounds where very large fish go to lay their eggs on the redds. Many say this is very unethical or unsportsmanlike. Some say it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, others have compared it to shooting a trophy Elk in a fenced in football field.

Guides get paid big money to put clients on these fish, while other guides simply won’t guide during this time of year.  Some anglers walk in the river and disturb the gravel spawning beds (redds). Some fishermen believe that if you put a spawning fish back in the water as soon as possible, it will continue to do its thing. Others argue that this puts an incredible amount of undue stress on the fish and they will not be able to place their eggs as normal, or worse, due to this stress many of them will not survive. At any rate I’m still undecided. I’ve since moved back to Wisconsin after 30 years in California. I have found here that fisherman from all over come to catch steelhead salmon as they swim up a local river to spawn.

Many years ago, I went to Alaska and fished the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers. Yes, we were catching spawning fish. I’m currently planning a trip in October, November when the walleyes are running, then again in March, April when the perch are running. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these fish are also moving into spawning areas. I know folks that catch huge bass as they are spawning. So, this isn’t just an issue of trout fishing in California, this is an issue everywhere I’ve ever fished. It seems to me that the entire Alaskan economy revolves around catching spawning fish. I’m not sure if this is an issue that should be regulated by individual states’ fish and game departments or if as an outdoorsman you should just know better?

I love reading about or hearing different views on this topic, and where we as fishermen stand. As for me I will continue to fish as I feel is most ethical for me. I would only hope that you do the same. Be kind to those who feel differently than you and do your best to protect what we have available to us now. Fish on my friends, and may you always have tight lines.

Andy Vinnes - To Fish or not to Fish - Grip and Grin

This article is the opinion of the author. However, we’d love to get your thoughts on the topic of angler responsibility in regard to fishing the spawn or over redds in the comments of this post. Or if preferred, related Tenkara Angler social media.


Andy Vinnes is a retired law enforcement officer from California. Now residing in Wisconsin, he’s been tenkara fishing for over five years, but enjoys all types of fishing as time allows.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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