Why? by Derek Hack

After being a member of BASS for just over a year, I feel now is the time to put pen to paper and express a few opinions. In the last month I have sent a letter to all those active members listed on the inside cover of the magazine. The crux of the letter was not only to send my support to all those who are involved in the running of the BASS society, but also to air a few views I have, notably members not participating in any way to the Society, and also the killing of bass, especially big bass. From the letters sent out I received four replies with some interesting views. Some agreed with me to some extent, others didn’t.

Let me just say here that I was a Regional Organiser for The Pike Angling Club for ten years, so I have in some small way an idea about what it takes to deal with members of a club or group and the pitfalls that can occur. Firstly, coarse and sea anglers are mostly very apathetic to anything you ask of them. Note I said mostly not all. I have received about five BASS magazines since becoming a member and upon looking through them, the same names crop up. Not a very good state of affairs to be in. There are over 300 members who are reading this piece so it’s a bit of a bad show to have the same names cropping up in the magazine all the time. If you haven’t sent anything to the Editor then why not?

One of the replies I had to this topic asked if it was only sea anglers who are like this? I would say no. Most anglers join clubs and do nothing but read the magazine. A rough guide is that if only 200 of you write something then there would be enough to fill 50 magazines! Have I got anything to write about? is what you’re asking yourself. How about a funny story, a fictional story, a disaster day, lessons learned, a big fish, a small fish, a lost fish, largemouth bass, striped bass, or unusual fishing trips. There are a few ideas for you to mull over!

As far as I am concerned, it should be something special to have an article printed in the group magazine. It should not be the case that the poor editor is just grateful for anything he can get his hands on! Come on give it a crack, you might surprise yourself and in the process give the editor a headache, one I’m sure he would like, and one I’m sure he has not had before.

Another topic that cropped up was what format the membership should take, i.e. a smaller society which would hopefully consist of active members, or larger, as it is now. My own view was to have a small active society but on this point I may have got it wrong. It was pointed out that having a small membership would still not guarantee finding new committee members. In fact, if you were to have a large membership then by the law of averages you would get more members coming forward to be active and carry the society forward in the years to come. After this was pointed out to me I must say that my views changed and can now see the good points to having a bigger society. Another plus point would be that you are more likely to be taken seriously on anything you are trying to change (e.g. the conservation project), if you have the backing of a large membership. If the Society does get bigger then I hope all the members appreciate the work that the officials will have to put in. Something many members don’t give any thought to.

My main reason for writing relates to killing bass. I have not killed any of the bass I have landed since I started fishing for them 2 years ago. This is just a personal thing that stems from me coming from a coarse fishing background, as did quite a few other members who also return all their bass, so I am not alone in this. However, those brought up on sea angling have always taken fish for the pot and see nothing wrong in that. Fair enough, but in the pages of the magazine we have a conservation group asking for funds to continue their fight against the trawlers and such like, whilst on the next page there is a picture of a dead bass or a story of how the captor caught, and later weighed the fish at home. Now don’t get me wrong, I have sent my donation in and hold my hands up and say good luck and well done. One letter told me not to worry about taking fish for the pot as it is small fry when compared to commercial fishermen. This I accept, as I can’t personally do any thing about commercials or trawlers but I can help in some small way by putting back the bass I catch and encouraging others to do the same.

image:photo of Derek Hack with a bass
[photo – caught and admired]

Now, why do anglers kill bass? I admit to having eaten bass, and without doubt they are lovely eating, but the one thing I would ask is that you consider the size of the fish you take. Does it have to be the biggest? I would have thought that a bass in the 4-6lb range would be ample for a meal, so why take fish in the 9-12lb bracket? Is it a case of the great white hunter syndrome, the fish is shown to family and friends to impress them with the result that half the fish is given away or thrown in the freezer? I did get a reply that said it was every angler’s right to take a fish for the pot and I don’t dispute this. Just think about the size of fish you take. Am I the only one that finds it strange that you may have sent £20 to the fighting fund one day and then come out and killed a good bass the next? I know a lot of you do not kill any bass and have the same views as me. I’m not saying I’m right; what I’m hopefully doing is giving you something to think about. Have you thought that by putting a 9lb bass back that maybe in the next year or two you might catch that same fish when it weighs over 10lb or even bigger? I know from a short conversation with Donovan Kelley that he has recaptured bass during his tagging programmes, some of them over a year later.

image:photo of Derek Hack releasing a bass
[photo – and then returned for others to enjoy]

When I first started with the Pike Anglers Club in ’78 a lot of pike killing took place. Now, people are more enlightened with a larger number of big fish giving much pleasure to a lot of anglers. If that first angler had killed that pike then he would have deprived the rest of a treasured memory and also stopped the fish getting any bigger.

I know that if I was fishing next to a fellow angler and I saw him kill a big bass, then my first thought would be one less fish that I might catch. Selfish yes, but I go fishing to catch fish and if most other people are killing them then there are going to be less for me to catch. So, please give some thought to the size of bass that you take. Also, why not take a camera with you? This is something most coarse anglers do but sea anglers don’t. I’ve taken some great photos of my bass over the last 2 years with a small compact camera and tripod. You don’t have to kill the fish to get a photo. Besides, a dead bass looks bloody awful on film!

Remember, you are fishing for a fish that is chased all year long wherever it goes, so after dodging nets year after year it may finally be caught by a BASS member which could be the fish’s biggest (and last) mistake. I do not know if the Society has a constitution or such thing but I would like an unwritten code that members are expected to take selected fish for the table and to return (where possible), the larger bass. It was stated to me in one of the letters I received that if a member of the Society was found to be fishing nursery areas, taking undersized bass, or fishing for profit, then they would be expelled. This I applaud, but I would still like to see a silent code encouraged. I know this would be hard to police and would be down to each individual to uphold, but I would like to think that being a member of the Society would bring some respect for the fish you catch.

As I said before, I hope this piece has made a few of you (or a lot of you) stop and think the next time you are lucky enough to land a large bass. Why kill it if you could see it again if you return it?

This article originally appeared in BASS Magazine No: 89, Spring 1999