Editorials on a Variety of Subjects, Topics, and Issues
As a group, flyfishermen are generally considered to be environmentally conscious regarding the sport and fish they pursue. They're active in habitat restoration and preservation, use challenging tactics, and have brought the benefits of catch and release to the forefront. There's research on disease and mortality that will have long ranging benefits, but they're also tasked with resolving current issues that arise and pose specific threats. One such problem has recently been exposed, and is not well understood as yet, but nonetheless threatens Alaskan rainbows.
In the February 2001 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine, their feature article is entitled "ALASKA'S Giant Rainbows." The photo spread includes a picture of an angler and guide holding a monstrous 32 1/4 inch rainbow. This photo clearly shows a bare hook outside of and well below the mouth with a pegged bead four or five inches up-leader from the hook.
Fly Fisherman received several letters from readers who were calling FOUL. The magazine apparently did a investigative follow-up with Bristol Bay area guides who stated they had been using this technique for the past decade and indicated it was in the best interest of the fish. The March 2001 issue of Fly Fisherman includes editorial comments explaining not only this rationale but also the exact rigging and fishing method.
A small bead is placed 18 inches up the leader, then pegged with a toothpick to secure it in that location. Theoretically, when a fish takes the bead, the peg becomes dislodged and the bead slides down the leader allowing the hook to find purchase near the mouth on the outside. More accurately, the bead remains in the fish's mouth and the line is drawn through the bead - either intentionally or by the current drag on the line. This prevents lip and throat injuries. Fly Fisherman refers to this practice as "ingenious" and "a practical solution" to injury and mortality problems.
Not only was the rainbow foul hooked (by legal definition: anything outside the mouth), but also the angling method and rigging was neither lawful nor ethical. The pegging of beads is not an ingenious or unknown practice, and the use of such is specifically addressed in the Alaska fishing regulations, and strictly prohibited in the context of this fish.
The act of pegging beads is a variation of a common snagging technique referred to as "lining." Anglers attempt to run the line through a fish's mouth, eventually drawing the hook to flesh. In the instance of this rainbow, lining is accomplished using an attractor (the bead simulating an egg), which commits the fish to the line.
Feeding fish are experts in their domain. They can make the determination between a natural egg and a hard piece of plastic the moment they put it in their mouth, and many times the artificial will be spit out before the angler is even aware he has had a strike. If a fish takes a pegged bead, even briefly, it will have difficulty spitting the bead, but more specifically the line. Once the line is running out both sides of the mouth, it's held there by the water current, the forward movement of the fish, and it's teeth...and eventually the hook will slam home. Lining takes the skill out of detecting strikes by offering the fish no opportunity for refusal....not something considered as "fair chase" by any definition.
Outfitters and guides would have us believe their practice reduces injury and is in the best interest of the fish. This rationale is highly questionable and misleading. The truth is hooks cause damage and although the guides' lining method may reduce mouth and throat injuries, the overall incidence and severity of bodily injury is greatly increased. They admittedly use a bead which is pegged 18 inches above a bare hook. This creates the potential to sink a hook anywhere within that distance of the mouth. And by ADFG Bristol Bay sport fishing regulations, a bead must be either fully free-sliding OR must be pegged/secured no more than TWO INCHES from the hook.
Frequently, foul hooking with the guides' rigging involves the gills or gill plates, eyes or the soft underbelly; any of which can become a fatal or debilitating injury. In addition, fins will most frequently be hooked because of their protruding nature. Moreover, to the casual observer this may not appear to be life threatening, but the eventual harm may be the most deadly of all. Foul hooked fish can be extremely difficult to land resulting in grossly over-extended battles. Often fish will be played to complete exhaustion resulting in lactic acidosis which can eventually kill the fish after an apparently healthy release - as much as several days later.
While the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is working to curb the practice of lining, ethical anglers should not condone the use of this practice, nor endorse the area's professionals promoting it. And anglers caught in violation of Alaska fishing regulations will be cited, along with the guide, regardless of whether he was aware or not.
The complete Bristol Bay region ADFG Sport Fishing regulations are available online on the Fish & Game website. This link, BRISTOL BAY Regs will provide the index page to all the regulations' subsections. Each section is in an Acrobat PDF format which duplicates the exact look and feel of the hardcopy regulations booklet. PAGE #6 is where the "special regulations" defining the use of beads in fly-fishing only waters and waters allowing all types of tackle. You can download this pdf file page by selecting this link, Bristol Bay regs page #6. Look in the lefthand column under Special Regulations.
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