Sometimes the getting is more important than the keeping. A fisherman who pits his wits, patience and strength against the fish in Colorado's many wild rivers may still prefer burgers to fillets. Following Colorado's catch-and-release rules isn't just good for the fish, which gets to swim another day. It's also good for the fisherman, who doesn't fall foul of catch-limit rules and helps keep the rivers stocked with tempting targets for all sportsmen.
Reasons for Rules
Colorado is justly famous for its wild river trout, which attract fishermen from all over. At any given time, however, there are only so many trout in the river, and usually plenty of fishermen on the banks or wading in. Without catch-and-release, fish populations would soon disappear, since every fish taken out of the water is one less fish to spawn more fish later. High Country Angler, a sportsmen's site, estimated that some rainbow trout in just one section of the Colorado River were caught and released more than 40 times. Without catch-and-release, the Colorado River would soon be fish-free -- or fishing would have to be banned.
Where catch-and-release rules are in effect, fishermen should use barbless hooks, or bend the barbs on hooks flat with pliers to avoid harming the fish. Land the fish quickly when you snag one -- the longer it fights, the weaker the fish gets. When you land the fish, try to keep its body in the water while you remove the hook. Wet your hands before handling the fish, to avoid harming the fish's protective coating of slime. If you must take the fish out of the water to measure or photograph it, use a net with a soft mesh.
By the Numbers
Catch-and-release can help fishermen stay within the limits of Colorado's statewide bag and possession limits. The bag is how many fish you can catch in a day; the possession limit is the maximum number you want to have in your creel, car and home freezer when the game warden comes around to check. For instance, the daily bag limit for most kinds of trout is four, and the possession limit is eight. You can catch, and keep, up to five largemouth bass a day. Yellow perch caught east of the Continental Divide, limit 20; west of the divide, no limit. Make sure you have your fishing license to show the warden ($26 a year for Colorado residents, $56 for nonresidents) and your $10 habitat stamp.
Just as there's catch-and-release fishing in Colorado's state waters, there's good fishing in the state's federally operated rivers, such as in Rocky Mountain National Park. Bait and worms are banned in catch-and-release fishing. So are all hooks except barbless ones. Lead sinkers are permitted but frowned on, since they're no more healthful if a fish swallows one than if you eat it. All fish species must be returned to the water immediately. However, you only need your Colorado fishing license and don't need to buy an extra permit.
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