Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Word of Caution

As we head into the late summer months, I feel a word of caution is needed for anglers everywhere, myself included.  When a large trout (or any other species) graces the end of your line, the urge to take plenty of pictures is strong.  I would like to recommend being as careful as possible when doing so.

This issue is a problem and one that has been painfully obvious on my last two trips to the Caney Fork River.  Both times I have found large brown trout dead on the river bottom.  Each fish was obviously healthy and probably in the prime of its life.  I know that after a certain point the fish die of old age, but these fish were not to that point in my opinion (although I clearly cannot say that positively). 

I have a couple of theories on how those fish died.  One is that someone caught them and simply played the fish too long and then kept it out of the water for too long during the picture session.  Another possibility is that someone put the fish on a stringer before thinking better of the idea.  The new regulations allow the harvest of only one brown trout over 24 inches.  The first fish I found dead was around 18" and the fish yesterday taped out at 22".  Both were under the minimum size limit and someone may have got nervous and slipped the fish off the stringer as they approached a major access point.

However, the fact remains that some fish we catch probably won't make it.  To greatly increase the odds of the fish surviving, please remember to always wet your hands before touching any fish.  Also keep the fish in the water as much as possible between photographs.  There is no need to have the fish out of the water for very long.  Don't place the fish on dry surfaces for those "beside the rod" shots.  Finally, when in doubt, get the fish back in the water and skip the pictures instead of killing the fish.  I've done this with some large fish, and never regret the decision. 

On the Caney, low dissolved oxygen levels have been reported lately.  The river is currently only a shadow of its former self.  If you should be fortunate enough to hook and land one of the rare large fish that are left, please treat it respectfully and get it back in the water as quickly as possible. Spend as much time as necessary reviving the fish.  This is particularly important with the oxygen problems.  Get the fish out in the main current away from the warmer water near the banks. 

While my motivation for bringing up this issue was two experiences on the Caney, this is something that everyone should be careful of as we continue through the hottest months of the year.  Fisherman everywhere should consider their impact on the resource and fish responsibly at all times.  I've stayed away from the lower reaches of large Smoky Mountain streams this summer because of the warm water.  The long term health of the fishery is much more important to me than possibly catching and killing a large brown. 


  1. David, thanks for the post--I agree that this is an important issue, and I suspect more than a few well-meaning anglers inadvertently cause the death of fish, especially large trout, by excessive handling and keeping them out of the water too long. In addition to your suggestions and advice, I have found that keeping a fish in the water the entire time while taking photographs, by laying the fish on its side in shallow water, generally calms the fish down, and allows it to continue breathing, contributing greatly to its survival. Even this practice would have to be performed with some caution in rivers like the Caney from the sounds of it, that may contain lower oxygen levels. Thanks again for the post, and hopefully it serves to enlighten some anglers that have the best intentions for the survival of the fish they catch and release!


  2. Iain,

    Those are great additional suggestions. I hope everyone respects their catch enough to keep them in the water as much as possible.

    Although the Caney has been having dissolved oxygen issues, I think things are looking up. They have begun to run a sluice which is supposed to significantly increase the DO levels in the tailwater.

  3. Anonymous3:41 PM

    I dont know about you guys, but thats why I fish for wild, they dont give you time to snap a pic, they take off. Catch them bigguns all day long, I will take my wild 7 to 12 inch anyday!

  4. Jerry8:04 AM

    Another possibility is poachers who have no regard for the trout or the environment.

  5. David,

    I agree completely. I leave the fish in my net still in the water while I get my camera out. I then snap a few pics either cradling the fish in the water or just a couple inches out of the water. I leave my camera strung around my neck so I can just let it go and immediately return the fish to the water.

    It kills me when I get on the message boards and see multiple fish pics by the same people every week with fish laying on dry ground. Even after myself and others have said not to do that, many still continue to do so. Some people just don't learn.

    And as another comment above suggests it could be poachers. I called the poacher hotline on a guy on the Clinch just last weekend who was keeping more than his limit and probably half were in the slot.