When Tom Martin and Fred Summers, Jefferson City, hit Stockton Lake recently, they found the fishing good for walleye and crappie. Martin hooked a big walleye and Summers took a photo of the fish. Then Summers looked in wonder as Martin hung the fish over the side of the boat and released it back into the water.
“Why didn't you keep that big fish?” Summers asked.
Martin replied, “Since it gave me a good fight, I thought I would but it back into the lake so another angler would have a chance to get the same thrill as I did.”
Many anglers have been promoting the concept of catch and release. That is good, and it is important some of the fish anglers catch are released. Most of my fishing friends release a majority of the fish they catch, especially when the catching is hot. We do know many anglers like to keep fish they catch to eat. Walleye and crappie make great table fare and it adds to the fishing experience.
An angler shouldn't feel guilty when they keep some of their catch; they are practicing selective harvest, which means they are utilizing fish more suitable for the table.
At Stockton Lake, walleye and crappie are the most popular species for anglers to take home to eat. Keeping a few of them doesn't hurt the overall population and in some cases it might prove beneficial.
“I keep a lot of panfish like crappie and bluegill,” Martin said, “Their populations is usually high and in some cases if some aren't taken the lake will have a lot of stunted fish. I have seen many farm ponds that have crappie, but they are rarely over 5-7 inches long.”
It is usually not advisable to keep the larger fish for the table, but if you should catch a trophy fish, it doesn't make sense to filet a 4-pound crappie to eat unless it is hooked deep and might not live.
Should you decide to take the fish home for supper, it would be a good idea to decide which specific fish to keep. If you are on a lake and most of the fish you catch are about the same size, it won't hurt to keep some of them. Panfish are the best suited fish for keeping.
Though there might be a large population of large fish in the lake you are fishing, it can be fished down fairly fast.
In some lakes it doesn't hurt to keep a few largemouth bass in the pound-and-a-half range, but again, put the larger ones back.
In assessing the importance of catch and release of appropriate fish, moderation is the key. A few fish kept for the table is fine, but it isn't necessary to feed the entire neighborhood or fill your freezer just because there is excellent fishing at the lake. Keep enough for a fresh fish dinner, put the rest back and we will have plenty for all of us to enjoy for a long time.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in sports as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.