Releasing a fish allows you to share the joy of catching that fish with someone you will likely never meet.
The grand, glistening body of the 30-pound striper in front of me, reflecting the moon and stars above, is utter perfection. It’s taken me all week to find her amongst the smaller fish, but every long tide, sore back, and lost hour of sleep was worth it for this moment. True, I somehow feel a bit unfulfilled that she isn’t 40 pounds (or 50), but I would hardly call the night a failure. A quick photo, and I let her massive, sweeping tail slide out of my grip, and she melts back into the dusky depths.
Typically, the next thought in my mind is can I get another, or a larger, fish? But tonight, another thought crosses my mind as I climb out of the chilly shallows and back onto my boulder to cast. I can’t help but stop for a moment to contemplate. Staring out at the open sea, I think I wonder how many times that fish was caught, where, and by whom? A fish of that size is around 15-years old. That means it’s likely taken more than 10 trips up and down the coast. It’s traveled many thousands of miles, and passed hundreds of thousands of anglers and their tempting lures, flies, and bait. Certainly, there is little chance that it has not been caught before, right?
Then, by simple logic, this means I have shared this fish with anglers that have come before me. Men and women I will never know, in places I probably have never been. Perhaps someone caught her just last year, and in the high 20 pounds, she might have been a personal best for a dedicated angler. Maybe a few springs ago, she was in a pack of herring-chasers in May and a perfect morning for a lucky fly fisherman. Perhaps when she was 10 pounds, she was one of 75 fish caught by a single angler in a Montauk blitz back in 2012. I can’t ever know, but it’s a striking thought, and I feel the weight of it.
Yet, what I do know is she was released every time she was caught. Maybe this was because she was too small to keep. Perhaps she was hooked after the angler already had a fish for the table. Maybe she was caught by an angler like myself who is catch and release only. Still, these anglers—including myself, all decided to let her go. And through this simple act—likely without much thought or consideration, they offered to share this wonderful animal with me. And for that, I am truly and deeply thankful.
Fishing is a pastime, passion, and pursuit that is rewarding to share with the ones we care about. Taking them fishing, teaching them how to fish, showing them photos, or just telling them stories—it’s a way many anglers connect with others on a basic, human level. Fishing is the excuse to share a bit of who we are and a glimpse into what is important to us. Yet, it is also something we share with strangers and future generations we will never know. Through being good stewards of our fisheries and releasing our fish, we connect with other fishermen through time. Releasing a fish allows you to share the joy you felt catching that fish with someone you will likely never meet. This is a transcendent moment of sharing that goes far beyond any story, photo, or high-five on the beach.
As I stand, now staring up at the crystalline sky, I suddenly feel the headiness of this connection to those that came before me and those that will come after me. It feels powerful. I will never know what happens to that fish; whether she’s never caught again, or a 100 times, or maybe even by me next spring. However, it feels significant to know that perhaps some late November night next year, a young angler will set the hook on a mighty hit and connect with a fish more prominent than they ever thought possible. At that moment, their life will change, even if only in a small way. That I may share at that moment, letting that fish continue on its journey is such an excellent thought that it gives me goosebumps. And with that thought, I wind up for another cast and send my darter sailing out into the night, hoping to connect with another large striper, and through it, with all the history of the anglers that have come before me, and will come long after I have left my last boot prints in the sand.