Catch and release

Jay Pinsky, right, shows off a 21-inch brown trout he caught on the Madison River near Ennis, Montana, with fishing guide Chris Conner. Courtesy photo

Conservationists are everywhere.

We can be found on a hike in the Shenandoah, in a car on the Pacific Coast Highway, planting trees in Georgia, or on a drift boat near Yellowstone National Park.

Last week I had the privilege to fly fish one of the greatest rivers in America, the Madison, located in Montana. To sweeten the experience it would be my first attempt at fly fishing and I got to learn from a seasoned, ethical and very conservation-minded guide named Chris Connor, who operates out of The Tackle Shop in Ennis, Montana.

We began our morning at a boat launch just outside of Ennis where Chris welcomed me into the fly fishing community by shaking my hand, showing me how to cast, and teaching me about the ethics of fly fishing including the art of catch-and-release fishing.

You see, most fly fishermen don’t take natural resources home with them. Nope, the fly fishermen I met, well they’re borrowers. When they want to fish, which is often, they do. Sometimes they catch a few fish, sometimes they catch a lot but they always put them back. Chris was the epitome of what an ethical fisherman ought to be and for the rest of my life when I cast a fly line I’ll do so with the frame of mind about fishing, ethics and a love of our environment which he gave me.

It’s a noble practice. Imagine if all of us simply borrowed the things we loved the most and put them back, day after day, no matter how big, beautiful or delicious what we wanted was. Conservation sure would be a lot easier. Clearly catch and release isn’t a practice we can use on some things, but my point is this – when we can and since we ought to, we must be borrows of Mother Nature’s wonders. And, as borrowers we need to return things not as we found them, but better than. See how this works?

Conservation works in a lot of ways. A lot of people like me agree that the rainbow trout is by far the very best-tasting fish on the planet (everyone else is in denial). While we could over-fish our rivers, lakes and streams to enjoy their heavenly taste until we resemble a beached whale, we don’t. We adjust. We bring in sustainable practices like farming the fish, eating them in moderation, protecting, enhancing and even restoring their native habitat, and last but not least catching them, then releasing them so they can mature, breed and pose in a lot more photos than mine. After all, life without rainbow trout isn’t really living is it?

If we do this – if we learn to borrow more than we take, then not only will conservationists be everywhere but so will the very things we need and want to conserve.

And, that is the noblest thing of all.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540-465-2424, ext. 104, or Visit us at or follow us on Twitter    


James Pinsky is the Education and Information Coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or Visit us at or follow us on Twitter