CPR. I’m sure the first thoughts when you see/read this acronym will relate to saving the life of someone in cardiac arrest. You may be trying to remember how many chest compressions vs breaths they are teaching in courses these days because the ratio has changed over the years. Much like attitudes towards killing trophy caliber fish in the wide variety of species available in Sunset Country have changed as well.
In the fishing community, CPR stands for Catch, Photo, Release. In the 22+ seasons that I have been at Mylie’s Place Resort on Lake of the Woods in Morson, Ontario, I have witnessed a significant shift in the attitudes of the vast majority of anglers on the water. For several years starting back in my rookie resort season in 1992, it would not be uncommon to see a big fish paraded from the dock towards the office so we could get out the Polaroid camera and snap a photo for the bulletin board. Anglers, young and old alike, would pose for a picture before making their way to the fish cleaning house to cut up their prized catch. Yes, some were made into skin mount trophies, but I’d guess that 99 out of every 100 ended up filleted.
A lot of factors have led to a change in the hearts and minds of anglers. A change in regulations would be one of the first turning points in creating the catch and release trend. I can’t remember what the size limit rules were prior to the implementation of 1 walleye over 18” is allowed per license on Lake of the Woods. All of a sudden, many fish that would otherwise have been kept were being returned to the water by mandate. A change in the daily limit to go with the new size regulations quickly provided a noticeable increase in the average size of the walleyes that were being caught. Most people want to catch lots of fish, and lots of big fish. Seeing results from returning big fish to the fishery made it a no brainer for many from the get-go.
Several other big influences have further driven the CPR fishing movement. One of the biggest is the advancement in digital camera technology. Cell phones now take better pictures and video than digital cameras ever did when they first become popular. Graphite replicas have also taken leaps and bounds in quality over the past 10-15 years. Taxidermists are now artists that can re-create your fish of a lifetime so you can still hang it over the fireplace. Also, if you talk to anyone that fishes regularly, or more importantly, eat fish regularly, you will hear that smaller fish cook better & quicker and are much tastier.
All of these factors have combined to make letting big fish go a societal norm. Killing big fish is now the uncool thing to do. It often results in dirty looks and snide comments in fish cleaning houses and at landings if it is witnessed by conservation-minded anglers. Cutting a big fish up for food is darn near a crime to nearly all serious anglers. As far as the majority of anglers are concerned, big fish deserve to be let go so they can grow. So they can lay more eggs and have lots of babies.
One of the arguments that have always puzzled me is the one claiming that an older, bigger fish may not lay as many eggs and are likely going to die soon so it is ok for someone to keep it when an otherwise younger, healthier fish should be let go. I could give you the extreme rebuttal to that relating to how we don’t do that with humans or other animals, but I’ve always preferred a more sensible approach to reasoning so let me try a more logical approach.
At an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources provincial fish strategy workshop in February of 2014, I was enjoying the catered lunch when this topic came up in conversation at my table. As fate would have it, a scientist was sitting at the same table and quickly offered something I had never really thought about in 22 years of living and working in the fishing industry. She said that genetics play a huge role in the size potential of fish. Not all fish will grow up to be giants. Many will max out much smaller than trophy class. Big fish will more likely spawn more big fish. The science proves it. Well, of course, it makes sense now that you think about it, right? Not only that, she stated that science has also proved that bigger fish are much better spawners, both in terms of quantities of eggs and number of eggs surviving to make babies. That makes sense too, doesn’t it? An experienced, older fish knows its way around the structure better and will seek out the most attractive places to drop eggs.
One of the things we try to convey to people when they come to stay at Mylie’s Place is that they are in trophy country. Be prepared for catching big fish. Know what you want to do BEFORE you get out on the water. Have your cameras with you, batteries charged, measuring devices close by, and release tools ready. All over Sunset Country, trophy potential exists in so many different species of fish. It is truly an incredible part of the world in which to live and work. Our guests never cease to tell us how a special place in the world it is to visit and we love watching them respect and nurture the resources available to all of us.
We have molded a Responsible Harvest Philosophy for our guests to apply to their fishing while they visit Lake of the Woods. It has developed over the years and largely influenced by feedback from those guests that return to the area year after year. The philosophy takes the written size regulations and expands on them further. The majority of our anglers operate under even stricter size regulations in their own boats voluntarily. The principles behind the philosophy are based on the idea of continuous improvement. Just because something isn’t broken, doesn’t mean it can’t be made better.
When you come to Sunset Country, please practice CPR and Selective Harvest while you are on the water. Your kids, grandkids, and their grandkids will thank you for it.
* Editor's Note: When I wanted to produce an article about catch & release fishing, I immediately thought of Justin at Mylie's Place Resort. I have followed his posts on Facebook for a couple of years now and I have to say the passion he has about CPR and the fishery on Lake of the Woods is amazing. He truly cares about the fishery and it shows through his words and actions and consequently the actions of his guests. Give Mylie's Place Resort a like on Facebook and see for yourself all the trophy fish continually being caught and released in the waters near Morson, Ontario. Thanks for being a great example of such a classy fisherman.