Barra Basics student Ben ‘Westo’ Weston shares how and why he started to tag and release fish, how you can get into it too, and how he and good mate, fellow Barra Basics student Ben Gibertson, tagged and released the SAME metre plus barramundi two years apart. If it wasn’t tagged they never would have known.
And following on from this article we have some great news. Our Barra Basics online course has been showing anglers a better way to catch barra and it will change the way you look at your fishing – just as it changed everything for Westo. Registrations are only open a few times per year and you can find out more using the button below.
A Recreational Thirst for the Release – How to Tag and Release Fish
In 1991 a man named Rex Hunt, first broadcasted a show named ‘Rex Hunt’s Fishing Australia’. 12 months later it was renamed, as many would remember, to ‘Rex Hunts Fishing Adventures’. Some anglers who fish in the year 2018 may know of Rex, some may not. But it’s without any doubt that some 27 years on, the majority of recreational anglers continue his legacy of catch (or kiss) and release.
Rex was the biggest influence in the practice of catch and release as we know it today and in fact, paved the way to where I am today as a predominantly, catch and release angler. Recreational anglers are becoming more educated on ‘taking what you need and not necessarily what you’re allowed’.
I believe this has been driven by a few key factors, which all are a result of better education on issues such as:
1. Understanding of fish stocks & effects of overfishing,
2. Movements &
3. Species Biology
a. Growth rates,
b. Breeding cycles &
c. Genetic trends (such as species like barramundi being hermaphrodites).
Obviously, a lot of scientific work is done studying individual species to gain a better understanding of them. But, I believe there is an unsung hero in understanding of species movements, breeding habits and growth rates. The tagging effort of recreational anglers over +30 years have significantly contributed to many of the species unknowns mentioned above. Infofish reported in the 2016/17 Annual Report, they have 1.3 million fish records and approximately 850,000 tagged fish in the Australian database.
There is an interesting correlation between the angler and tagged fish, both have a yarn to spin after every trip. Although fish can’t settle over a cold ale at a bar and give you their story, a tagged fish spins interesting account of capture, travel and growth over a period time. This alone is a great incentive to tag and release fish!
Back in the days before email or internet, it took some time to receive your re-capture certificate via snail mail and unfortunately for the bream, the story was short, sweet and grim. These days all of the data is at the angler’s fingertips via the internet.
But, back to my bream!
It was caught a week later, on the same snag, had not grown and unfortunately for it, ended up into the icebox of the next angler. But, as a 15-year-old it’s tale was a bittersweet one! Although its fate wasn’t my desired outcome and no detailed data was gained, I still thought this tagging stuff was pretty cool. To be honest I still get the same buzz when I re-capture a tagged fish and find out its own individual story.
Another fish that really sticks in the memory was a 57cm barra which I tagged in the mid to late 2000’s while fishing the Benjamin Flats area of the Hinchinbrook Channel. Some 7 years later the same fish was captured in the Tully River, some 70kms away as the crow flies. It had grown 43cm, that a growth rate of 6.14cm/year. Unfortunately, like the guts ache bream, the barra was to tantalizing of a prospect for the angler and ended up on the dinner table.
But each re-capture unveils little secrets which would never have been discovered if I didn’t tag and release fish, whether it is taken upon re-capture or not. Who would have known that barra would travel that far in 7 years, barra are not so lazy afterwards and it begs the question? Why did it venture all that way? Something which maybe revealed with further recaptures from the same area of effort.
Barra Basics students tag and release the SAME metre plus fish two years apart.
Recently I recaptured a barra which measured 113cm, cracker fish. It had a tag in it which I took out of the fish and replaced with a new one. I was like an 18 year girl on prom night, to recapture a fish of that size, what tale did she have for me?
So, I entered the data into the online reporting system and the barra was in fact caught by a very good mate of mine and fellow Barra Basics student Ben Gilbertson. When she was initially caught she was 106cm, my head began to tick over. Hours later upon receiving my recapture certificate, it revealed more in-depth data which uncovered very cool twist to her story.
This barra was in fact caught by Ben, in my boat, just over two years (762 days) prior to me recapturing it, grown 7cm in that time and here she was in the same spot! Ryan has also recaptured the same metre plus fish in the same spot. Just goes to show they are definitely creatures of habit and probably why Ryan’s Barra Basics course has been so successful.
Many have asked why and how to tag and release fish, so if have red this far through my waffling I now give you a heads up on both.
So why tag and release fish?
My answer is, why not? If you are a predominantly practice catch and release angler, have an opportunity to contribute towards the valuable collection of data and gain some satisfaction by doing so, why the hell not?
Some may see differences in the value in the data of the two recaptures I have mentioned above. For some an interesting insight or correlation between size and distance travelled, others may just see it for simply cool info! For one with a somewhat trained eye, interesting habits reveal themselves which may have only been leant in a lifetime of fishing for barra. However you view it, it is very interesting information which takes minimal effort by a tagger or recapturing angler. That is why I tag and release fish!
Although I am not to concerned with accolades and recognition, each organisation I will mention in the next paragraph has some great internal competitions, prizes and trackable milestone-based incentives also.
So how can I start to tag and relase fish?
Depending on your geographical location, there are a few active recreational tagging organisations, each which their own specific projects and goals. All organisations are joined on a membership which require an annual fee.
Australia wide there are two predominant tagging groups, Australian National Sportfishing Association (ANSA), which has individual state sub branches and SUNTAG Australia. For the Northern Territorians, the Amateur Fishing Association of the Northern Territory (AFANT) has its own tagging program.
So now I have made it confusing! I hear all your minds ticking over, so which one? Obviously, it will ultimately be an educated decision you will make based on presumably a few differing factors. For some it maybe cost, others it may be based on the specific tagging programs in their area.
For me it’s a bit of both, I am now a member and tag and release fish under the ANSA banner. Although the ANSA tagging program is in its infancy, they have given the power to each member of the local ANSA affiliated club to dictate specific tagging programs which would be of benefit to their area.
I based my decision on a couple of key factors which I have stated below:
1. I live in Central Queensland and the Keppel Bay Sportfishing Club have directed a specific tagging effort towards the two predominate species in the area. Both are species I specifically target, being king threadfin and barramundi. So, this said, with more local effort comes more data, data which in the future I believe will be of benefit to me.
However, for an angler that lives in Ipswich, Australian bass maybe more appealing due to their availability in their local waterways. So check out both to see which is of greater benefit to you and your goals.
2. I believe that the effort to tag, although voluntary comes at a financial and personal burden to the tagger. Therefore, the organisation should provide full transparency on collected data, particularly ‘ALL’ recapture data over the organisations ‘WHOLE’ period of existence.
Due to its infancy, ANSA has taken proactive approach in developing its tagging program and the management of tagging data. As a result, ANSA’s tagging data is obtainable by all ANSA taggers to benefit, learn and grow from which I believe provides an incentive for their involvement.
In conclusion, learning to tag and release fish is a great way to do your bit for your fishery and contribute towards a ‘Citizens Science’, for a better analogy.
Although an individual should not be judged for exercising their right to a feed, catch and release is a very rewarding way of fishing. By tagging, regardless of the organisation you decided to tag under, it can be the reward that keeps giving.