Use Your Power Wisely

By Ted Peck - March 1, 2011
Life is a circle, with time on this planet known only to the Creator. Most of us would like to lead a fulfilling life, seen as part of the solution instead of being part of the problem when our time on the planet is done.

Humans are the alpha life form on the big, blue marble which is planet earth. We learn early on that life is a treasure. At least human life. There are severe consequences for messing with the lifeline of a fellow human. In Genesis the Bible tells us we humans have dominion over all other living things.

A nightcrawler certainly has less value to us than the family dog. But a life is a life. As fishermen we don't give a second thought to ending the life of a nightcrawler, leech or fathead minnow.

We call these creatures 'bait'. If the nightcrawler brings us a six pound walleye we smile because we're having a pretty good day. We don't consider the fact that the nightcrawler just gave up its life . We're happy to catch that walleye.

Once again, we hold the power of life or death in our hands. A six pound walleye is most likely a female fish. If we decide her best utility is next to a pile of fries and wad of cole slaw we will likely smile and pat our bellies, probably congratulating ourselves on fooling this living creature and the joy that a full belly brings.

A six pound female walleye will carry up to a third of her weight in eggs. If this fish was released to fight another day and managed to get off a successful spawn the following spring when water temperatures warmed beyond 45 degrees, some of her offspring-a very few-might live to become six pound walleyes 10 years after you made the decision to free this fighter instead of feeding your hunger after the dance.

If you thump her in the head and turn her into dinner this is one possibility you will never have to contemplate. Maybe you're an old guy facing the reality that 10 years from now most dinners will be oatmeal instead of fresh walleyes if you're still part of life on earth.

Those who have children or grandchildren find greater reward in teaching their kids how to fish, gladly freeing every single fish which finds their hook if it means a youngster will someday know the thrill you felt when that six pound walleye slurped up a nightcrawler.

Kill that fish and the scenario will never happen. That's a fact. Not to say there won't be other fish of substantial dimensions to provide thrills for the kids. If all the ducks line up the way the DNR projects they should if everybody follows harvest guidelines young anglers may come to experience the thrills which you have known.

But the plans of man have a way of falling short in the grand scheme of things. If you take a hard look at life we really don't have that much power or control. We do have the option of killing or setting free a fish which has just brought us considerable joy. We literally hold the future of fishing in our hands with every single fish.

The Creator has provided the fish and given you the means to catch it. If you opt for a sandwich now all other options with that fish are off the table.

This isn't to say you shouldn't enjoy the bounty which angling efforts have provided. Selective harvest is a good thing. The biomass of a one-acre farm pond is a great illustration of this point.

Biologists have learned that harvesting five pounds of bluegills for every pound of bass is a good working framework for keeping this little slice of heaven in balance. If you catch a five pound bass and put it on the wall without releasing 25 pounds of bluegills into grease odds are you're trophy will become legend because the fishery will quickly go out of balance and not produce another five pound bass for a long, long time.

Don't rely on somebody else to take those 25 pounds of bluegills because you consider yourself a bass angler. You held the life of that bass-and that resource-in your hands. You made the fateful decision.

There is a 10 lb. 8 oz largemouth bass replica on my wall. This fish rocked my world one April on a private lake in northwest Illinois. She was set free after photos, measurements and removal of a few scales.

Fish scales have rings, just like a tree. A friend of mine who was a fish biologist at Southern Illinois University determined my bass was 22 years old. Apple Canyon Lake was only 25 years old at the time.

This old bass was near the end of her life. She probably wasn't all that fertile. Maybe her egg laying days were done. But maybe some 10-year-old kid got to feel her pull later that summer, leaving the lake hooked on fishing for life.

The only thing which was certain when I held that trophy in my hands was the end game scenario of heading directly to the taxidermist.

You may never catch a 10 lb. 8 oz bass from Midwestern waters. If you do, it will probably be the biggest bass you'll ever catch. You have every right to end a life which was pretty much over anyway.

I'll bet at least one person danced with my trophy before I had the option to set her free. If they would have killed her at 15 inches, I never would have known her thrill.

Every time you catch a fish YOU have the power to keep the circle of life spinning 'round. It's entirely your choice. Would you rather tell your children how good the fishing used to be or laugh from the soul when they discover the joy of this thing we call fishin'.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.