Catch and Release: It's not always the best option!
We practice catch and release, personally, and on our trips 99.9% of the time, but, like it or not, it is not always the best practice. In North Carolina (and many other states), fishing is big business. The fishing licenses and trout permits you buy help pay for trout to be stocked in our rivers. These fish are there to be caught....and eventually harvested. Of course, we would love to see everyone practice catch and release, but there are multiple reasons that these fish need to be kept. In NC, we have two different types of stream designations in which the North Carolina Resources Commission stock trout. Those are Hatchery Supported and Delayed Harvest streams. Delayed Harvest streams are typically in easily accessible areas which also means 'flatter' water. The water in these streams can become low and warm during the summer months. The lack of cold, oxygenated water will either move the fish elsewhere or they will simply die. Because thousands of fish are introduced into these streams in the Fall, most of the 'wild' fish are pushed elsewhere, leaving mostly stocked fish in these areas. The first Saturday in June is when the fish in these streams can be 'harvested.' Again, most of the fish taken out of these streams will be stocked fish that would most likely die if they aren't eventually taken out. Hatchery Supported streams are stocked throughout the Spring and Summer, but not in the same numbers as Delayed Harvest streams. The streams that are designated Hatchery Supported are usually streams that also hold a good number of 'wild' fish. These streams, at least in NWNC, are more likely to hold fish year round. People looking to harvest fish in these streams, usually fish them when they are stocked, but that's not always the case. Because there are usually decent numbers of wild fish in these streams, it would be nice if more people could distinguish between stocked and wild and only keep the stocked fish! This is where we need to examine when we keep fish. Stocked fish are put in to be caught...and kept. Stocked fish will not reproduce, so they will eventually die and really serve no purpose to that stream or our ecosystem...other than the enjoyment to fisherman! Now, yes, it would be great if these fish were in our streams and kept there, but during the summer months, when the streams can be low, warm and deadly to trout; stocked fish take up areas wild fish could safely hold, compete with wild fish for food, and place undo stress on fish that are already stressed. Once our cooler Fall months come back around (October 1st), the Delayed Harvest streams will be stocked again and the fishing in those streams will miraculously become great again and everyone will be happy.
Many people may not even realize that the streams are stocked with trout and that they are not all wild fish. As anglers, it is our responsibility to know the stream regulations and if we are wanting to keep fish, know the size restrictions and daily fish limit. We would love to see that only stocked fish are kept, but it is certainly your right to keep whichever fish you prefer...within the law. Also, there are plenty of fishermen out there that practice catch and release, but do not know about proper trout handling techniques. If you are gonna release fish back into the water, make sure you know how to handle them so they stay alive! That is another article, but here is a link to great article on C & R techniques.
This is a tricky subject for most fly fishermen because fly fishing and catch and release usually come hand in hand. As fly fishermen and women, it is also our responsibility as conservationists to maintain a healthy ecosystem for the wild trout in our streams. Part of that conservation includes harvesting the stocked fish so that the wild fish can thrive. We never like seeing dead fish pics or people with a stringer full of trout, BUT, harvesting is part of conservation. If you keep it, make sure you eat it!