I spent last week on the Nushagak River in Alaska, taking part in the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy. It’s a great program involving The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, The Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and the Bureau of Land Management, through which young native men and women are taught the basics of fly fishing and guiding. They learn more about fly “culture” and we learn more about Yup’ik culture, as we all have a vested interest in the long term health of the rivers and salmon in that region. I saw some great guide prospects in this bunch… you want to talk about people who know where fish hang out in a river… amazing. I’ll write more on this soon.

One of the most interesting aspects of this exchange was talking about the catch and release issue. Yup’ ik culture teaches that an animal is aware of the hunter or fisherman’s presence… and that it presents itself for the taking, giving itself to the person. By not taking the animal humanely, the hunter/angler is perhaps guilty of insult…

And yet, the natives I talked with could also understand the rationale behind my catch-and-release ethic. I had to convince them that fly fishermen aren’t just “playing with their food.” If we try to support as large a fish population as possible… and if we are able to generate sustainable income (as well as food) by doing so, this may be another way of looking at a greater plan.

It was an interesting discussion… particularly since it wasn’t just among recreational anglers, but also included people whose culture has been sustained by salmon for many generations. I don’t think any of us came away with a full resolution. I don’t equate not killing fish with refusing a sacrament, but I clearly see the point. For example, I don’t imagine ever walking into the woods and shooting a deer or elk with a paintball. And I also think people who mishandle, ogle, suffocate (ultimately killing but not eating fish) deserve far more criticism than the angler who pops a few trout in the creel now and then.

On that, the natives and I were in full agreement. Whether you keep a fish or release it… the angler’s actions should always be done with respect for the fish foremost in mind. –Deeter