With recreational anglers taking the brunt of decades of fisheries mismanagement by the incompetent bureaucrats at the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, NC Division of Environmental Quality, and politicians in our legislature, especially in the executive branch and due to perceptions of declining fish stocks and a short-term need for more drastic conservation measures to ensure future success of certain fish stocks, recreational fishermen in coastal North Carolina are facing the most conservative harvest limits ever. The days of going out everyday and filling up big coolers full of inshore saltwater fish have come and gone. The obvious way to increase our recreational harvest limits is better management, leading to a greater abundance of fish that reach a sustainable harvest size; however, that is not so simple in North Carolina. While many folks are currently hard at work behind the scenes to force our politicians to explore better management solutions, we also need to explore how important it really is to keep fish and ask ourselves is that the reason we really go fishing in the first place.
To me, there are three types of anglers: The first type is one who fishes purely for the sport and his desire to fish is completely independent of his ability to keep fish for food. Many younger anglers and fly fishermen share this perspective. The second type is one who fishes mostly for the sport and the ability to keep fish is an additional motivational factor for going fishing or the ability to keep fish directs him towards certain fisheries where he can keep fish and away from other fisheries that are just catch and release (An example would be currently someone who chooses to speckled trout fish on the Pamlico and harvest 4 fish/person/day limit vs. going fishing on the lower Roanoke for striped bass where the keeper season in closed until Mar. 1. Another example would be someone going striper fishing on the lower Roanoke and fishing outside of the mouth of the river in the Albemarle Sound Management Area where they can currently keep 2 stripers/person/day over 18 inches vs. fishing in the river where they can’t keep any fish). The third type of angler is the one who will not fish unless he can keep fish, so his reason for fishing is solely for harvesting the fish. Most of these guys are older and did a lot of fishing when you could keep enormous quantities of fish, so the luster of fishing has worn off with more restrictive harvest limits.
If you were to put all three types on a spectrum, they would likely correlate closely with age, with the younger anglers being more in line with the first type and the older anglers being more like the third type. In ten years of guiding, I’ve encountered all three types. I don’t really carry many of the third type and frankly, those types are not the types who hire guides for fishing. If they do, they are doing it for the wrong reasons. I consider myself more of the second type and perhaps somewhere between the second and first type. I love to eat fish, my family loves to eat fish, and we have frequent access to fresh local fish. However, as we are faced with stricter harvest limits (mostly good intentions in trying fix our fisheries and usually leading to a greater abundance of fish) and as I have observed other fishing guides in other fisheries in the country (mostly mountain trout guides who fish for trout, smallmouth bass, and musky and all of which never keep fish and view them as “business partners” that they can catch over and over again), it’s making more and more sense to work toward that mentality in our coastal fisheries. Although most of our coastal fisheries have never involved purely catch and release, there’s no reason why they couldn’t be. Some of our most coveted fisheries on the coast (such as our adult redfishery in the sound) are all catch-and-release. In my personal favorite fishery, our spring shad fishery, I never keep a fish. Why couldn’t others be the same way?
I guess what I’m trying to say in a nutshell is that I’m trying to be more of the first type of angler (the one who fishes purely for the sport and experience). Many of the younger generations of fishermen share this perspective, and as some of the older generations (such as our parent’s generation, the baby boomers) become too old to fish, I believe that many in our generation and generations after will enable the mentality of the mountain trout fly fishing guide to become more pervasive throughout our coastal fisheries. Although old habits are hard to break and I got my start on the back of a charter boat on the Outer Banks where the success of your day was judged by the poundage of tuna, mahi, and wahoo in your fish box at the end of the day, I’m trying hard to become more like the type who fishes purely for sport and I hope that if you are one of those types of anglers, you’ll give us a call because you are exactly the type of client I want. I will work as hard as I can and to the best of my ability to provide you a quality memorable experience out on the water. As we move forward in to the next decade of Tar-Pam Guide Service, I excited about what the future holds and for all of the wonderful trips we’ll have together, making great memories with family and friends without focusing so much on what’s in the cooler at the end of the day as a measure of our success.