What Happened to the Anglers?

Recreational fishermen are blurring the lines

painting of marlin fishing at night
Is ethical angling as we know it becoming a thing of the past?Dennis Friel

From the International Game Fish Association's World Record Game Fishes: "The following angling rules have been formulated by the IGFA to promote ethical and sporting angling practices, to establish uniform regulations for the compilation of world game fish records, and to provide basic angling guidelines for use in fishing tournaments and any other group angling activities. The word 'angling' is defined as catching or attempting to catch fish with a rod, reel, line, and hook as outlined in the international angling rules."

I heard an expression from an old-timer who asked me if I knew the difference between a recreational angler and a commercial fisherman. He said, “A commercial fisherman does not take pictures of his fish.” That was long before everyone had an iPhone with a built-in camera, but you get the idea.

For many years, we have been deep-dropping with electric reels off the east coast of Florida and the Bahamas, catching snapper and grouper in 300 to 1,200 feet of water. Some people caught fish for dinner and others wanted to fill their freezers. These days, you see quite a few big fish caught on electric reels; people have their pictures posted all over the internet, and some of these people are even called anglers. They show off these fish they catch on electric reels, and on rods that remain in the rod holder throughout the fight. I can understand catching a swordfish in the Gulf Stream off South Florida on an electric reel because of the extreme current, but are you really an angler? Set the drag, push the button and stand back.

Catching one or two swordfish will fill your freezer and make you some new friends back at the dock. But then to go back out the next weekend and do it again?

Then there are the others that catch a bunch of wahoo. The rod never leaves the rod holder, and the boat doesn’t slow down to let someone actually fight the fish. Those rod holders take a beating! I have even seen charter boats that have the anglers crank the planer rods in the rod holders. I understand that this type of fishing is necessary in some of the charter fisheries, but back in the old days, we would at least put the rod in the chair.

It’s bad enough that the crew has to hook the fish for the charters—and in most cases, it is definitely in the best interest of the charter party to let the crew do this.

And in some of the most successful tournaments, the crews are allowed to hook a fish and hand the rod off to the angler—I’m guilty of this one, and we allow it in my tournaments because it allows families to fish together who might not have the experience to compete against some of the pro teams that fish all the time. But they do get to fight the fish and have a chance to learn how to do it.

Whatever happened to putting the rod in the gimbal of the fighting chair or even using a rod belt? Let the anglers fight the fish. Let their legs get tired and their backs sore. For me, I enjoy the stories about anglers getting their butt kicked by big fish. If you read stories from Ernest Hemingway or Zane Grey, they would tell the captain when to back up the boat to gain some line and then to stop and let the angler fight the fish some more.

Those days are long gone because of the prevalence of sharks, the numbers game and the general improved survivability of releasing billfish quickly, but it was still the angler against the fish.

Yes, none of these situations I’ve outlined relate to world-record catches,  but some do apply to tournaments, many of which alter their rules to cater to these new styles of fishing.

Should all these people be called commercial fishermen instead of anglers?

I really enjoy the long, hard runs of a big wahoo. I just don’t understand these new rod-holder fishing methods. Is it because I am getting old, or because angling, as I know it, is becoming a thing of the past?