Actually, I don't have all that many strong opinions. Okay, I have one. So far. Well, it's not much of an opinion, but it's a start.
Let me start out with the part of the "prevailing wisdom" that I do buy into and then move on to where I depart from the dogma of some of my fellow anglers. I accept that the practice of catch and release improves the quality of a fishery. I'll buy that this tends to maximize everybody's opportunities to enjoy angling, and that it's good for everybody in the business. It's an enlightened attitude compared the the ones of old. I'm sure we've all seen old black & white photos of smiling men in plaid flannel shirts posing next to scores of animals that died just to be in the photograph, and most people these days would agree that this was all a huge, tragic waste that should never be repeated. People used to shoot muskies just to make them easier to land, for crying out loud. Well anyhow, nowadays we've learned how to be more "sensitive" and "conservative", and everybody's better off than before. Except for the fish.
And don't confuse me with some fish hugging nature boy that worships their image and that struggles to protect them from all harm. Let's face it - life is cheap, in fact it's dirt cheap. It's easy to make. The earth's crawling with it. Every time something dies, there's a bunch of other organisms that throw a party and celebrate the bounty that has been provided. Death makes space for life. For something to be precious, it needs to be rare. And life ain't. At least as a concept. However, my life is rare. I only have the one and once that's done, that's it. So even though it takes death to keep this whole thing working, none of us wants it to be us, at least for as long as we can help it. So a few fish die, no big deal to me or anybody else, but it's a big deal to them.
So then why do I want to kill them? Well I don't really. At least I don't think I do. I do a lot of the same weird thing that other people do. I give more respect to large things than to small things. I "sense" some sort of awe with regard to a creature like a musky. A big one can be quite old, and that seems to buy respect as well. They seem like something you really want to treat well, but then why do we go to so much trouble to give them such a hard time? Good grief! It's hard to imagine that any of us would feel good about being treated the way we treat these animals. I won't go into it. We've all played with the idea of what it must be like for the fish to get screwed with so badly and then sent off like a helpless, devastated rape victim.
If we really had any respect for the fish we would have left it alone altogether. It doesn't matter how careful you are or how much trouble you go to to avoid damaging the fish, the only way to do no damage is to stay away. Don't even go out on the water with your two-stroke poison fountain or your bird strangling monofiliment or your wake generated shore erosion. Let them be. Read what you can about them. Watch biologist's videos. Paint pictures and carve wood and just think about the damn things all the time, but do it somewhere else.
Okay. I like to think I respect life and that I try to be conscientious, but I still keep maiming these creatures. I suppose it's partly because there's something inside many of us that makes us enjoy this sort of thing, and I'll admit that it's in me. Catching a musky is great! You feel like you've accomplished something. You outwitted the fish. You overcame the odds. You established your place in the "grand scheme of things". And the fish is probably going to be just fine. Another reason why I keep going out on this ethical limb is because I don't really believe in any sort of reckoning. This is just between me and the fish. Whatever we do to each other is our business alone, and I'll never be held accountable for abusing this creature for my own entertainment. I'm going to get away with it.
So what is it that I'm really trying to say with all this? Well if you've read this far, you're some kind of weirdo, so I can say whatever I want. I want people to go on fishing. I want people to enjoy all the things that the world makes available. If you need to screw with a fish to be happy, then do it. But try to restrain yourself a little. Fish for fish you can eat and then eat them. Go ahead and dork with a musky from time to time, but be careful with them and if you get to be good at finding them, don't terrorize them. Act like the kind of person you'd like to be able to say that you are. Don't release them with bullshit respect and say things like "Oh, what a beautiful fish" or "Man, isn't that a magnificent creature" because if you really felt that way you wouldn't be doing what you're doing. This is brutal business, and even though the world can handle a certain amount, or even a lot, bear in mind what's really going on and try to position yourself where you really want to be is this dog pile called life.