January E-mail FAQ #1 - "Fun in Fishing?; Inflicting Pain in Fish?"

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Hello, Readers!

So, I'm bringing the December/January FAQ (Frequent Asked Questions), which is also the first official FAQ of the blog. They are basically a junction of comments/questions that I get in my blog e-mail (sheng12182527@gmail.com) over a certain period of time. All of them are answered personally; however, I've decided to create a FAQ type of post, and emphasize some of them for the general public (2 per post). All questions are being posted here with the subscriber's permission, and they will remain anonymous on this and future posts.

So, let's do it...

1. "I was extremely happy to see a blog focused on fishing, and Philadelphia. However, what's the fun in fishing, in your opinion? I went fishing once with my father at the Schuylkill, and got a single plastic bag the whole day. I gave up after that day..."

It's extremely hard to define "the fun" in fishing. There are many different kinds of fisherman, and they all cling to different aspects of the sport. I like the "unknown" trait best - the fact that I never know what I'm going to fish next. Also, as you may have seen, I'm very scientific. I would love to fish something unusual or weird, and carefully research it. Other fisherman, for example, live for the fight (action) between them and the fish. Some others like the challenge of fooling the fish with lures, proving that human knowledge can be sharper than fish's instincts, etc.

It really varies from person to person, but there's one thing that unites all true fishermen: their love for the outdoors, nature, and fish. You will hopefully do better a next time, if you are willing to try. Thanks for the e-mail;


Leo S.

2. "Stop hurting fish! Would you like to feel a piece of metal piercing through your meat, and pushing your whole body by your mouth? Do you have any idea how they feel? Fishing is a cruel sport, and should be banished from Earth! Your blog should be banished from Earth!"

First, I do not know how they feel because I'm not a fish (neither do you, believe me). I can only hypothesize the pain, not to mention that there have been studies showing that fish do NOT FEEL pain. If they do or not, it's still up to debate. However, I'll ASSUME that they do feel pain in my response because I like to assume the worst. 

There's absolutely no fun in hurting the fish. However, as a fisherman that loves fishing, I understand two things: (1) it's inevitable - the fish will get hurt in the process, so I try to minimize the damage as much as possible; and (2) fish suffer much more from fear than pain.

When I say that I try to minimize damage, I mean that I focus on not giving them any more pain than the hook in their mouths, and the short time that they are "suffocating". There are lots of approaches in handling this, some which I'll list below:

1. Play the fish the right way. Don't stress them too much, specially on Summer time. Some books recommend getting them in as short as possible to save their strength, but I prefer to tire them out to prevent stress on fish. That's the reason I always keep my drag (reel) loose, doesn't matter how small is the fish. What's most important comes next: don't let the fish stay outside of the water for a long amount of time. Put it back as soon as possible. If possible, handle the fish inside the water, hence it's tired from the fight.

2. After landing the fish, handle it carefully. Don't let it fall; don't kick it; throw it back gently; etc. Make all the arrangements, so the fish doesn't get injured in-land.

3. If the fish swallowed the hook, cut the line. Don't let the fish bleed. The fish will consequently absorb the hook, and live a normal life.

Also, you may think that PAIN is the main negative aspect in fishing, but it's not! 

In the 1900's, a Dutch researcher conducted experiments with Carp, determining the consequences a "hook-up" could cause to a fish. His name was John Verheijen. After observing and studying them, he concluded that carps that were caught and released didn't feed for a certain amount of time. However, the reason for not feeding was not because of the pain it felt during the hook-up, but rather the fear of the fishing process - a fear of being hooked once again.

In very blunt words, I'm talking about PTSD in fish - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Before I continue, let me emphasize that there have been researches about fish not having enough brain development that is necessary to experience physical pain. The researches were conducted by Dr. James D. Rose, and they can certainly be "googled". I would never say something without basis; without data. If that turns out to be true in the future, a fisherman could easily avoid pain in fish by following my three advices above. PETA's microbiologist has countered Dr. James D. Rose by saying that “It is unthinkable that fish do not have pain receptors”. Therefore, the debate is still on. 

Now, considering the possibility that fish may not suffer pain, PTSD is still there, and it's even worse than pain. With pain, or without pain, fisherman are basically causing psychological damage to fish. So...how far does this psychological damage goes? That's the main question that your question should be imposing.

I prefer to think this way:


- I'm "giving" the fish PTSD.
- They stop feeding for a certain amount of time.
- I am "possibly" giving them pain.


- PTSD is temporary. People have often caught the same Carp 5+ times, and acquired affection for the fish.
- Fish instinct is enhanced by catch-and-release

By catching-and-release, I'm showing the fish a whole new World - a World above water! I'm showing them the unknown, enhancing their instincts for the rest of their lives. If they get to live another day after being hooked, their instincs can certainly change and develop. Ever wondered how a big Carp is still alive and swimming in a little Creek? Certainly it's because it is very cunning, and very "smart" - it has very sharp instincts that prevent it from getting caught easily. The question is: how did he acquire those instincts? The answer is: probably by being caught and released many times during his life. 

Wouldn't it be nice if its future generations gained that trait from it? If that part of its instinct could be genetically passed to future generations? 

Let me ask you this question: have you ever wondered how almost every species of fresh water fish eat Earthworms when exposed to it, even though some of them have never seem them before? Interesting, huh? So, how do we know that that is not possible?

In conclusion, I don't know if fish feel pain or not. About the PTSD, I believe the fish have much more to gain than to lose by being caught and released. As in an analogy:

If an alien came to Earth, abducted me, showed me its whole planet - a new knowledge that I've never seen, for the exchange of giving me the pain to not being able to breath for a couple minutes, and the pain of having a piece of metal pierced through my mouth... and also knowing that that injury would regenerate, and I would come back alive? I would do it!

The only two differences in the analogy above is that I had a choice while fish does not, and I have knowledge rather than instincts - a rational mind. That's why I'm promoting: "please, people... catch-and-release!"


Leo S.


That's it for today's FAQ...

Best of luck for all of us!

Long Days and Pleasant Nights,


Leo S.