Mark Clemishire And The One That Got Away

Big Fish

Letting a fish you’ve caught swim off to be hooked another day doesn’t exactly place you in the altruism big leagues with Oscar Schindler,  but one takes one’s ethical opportunities as they arrive. For Mark Clemishire, a fly fisherman from Skiatook, Oklahoma, this qualifies as exemplary ethics, and attention should be paid.

It was about a month ago that  Clemishire was plying his craft in Lake Taneycomo, Missouri, and after an epic battle, caught a monster rainbow trout he immediately dubbed Troutzilla. Measured at 31 inches long with a girth of 22 inches, Troutzilla almost certainly weighed more than 20 pounds, which easily surpassed the existing record for a rainbow trout. To get credit for his achievement, a big deal for a serious fly fisherman, Clemishire’s trout had to comply with Missouri Department of Conservation rules that required the catch to be weighed on department certified scales. But instead of etching his own name in the record books, embracing immortailty and a place in the Fly Fishermen’s Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing, Mark had some photos taken of him posing with his Catch of the Day, and let Troutzilla go free.

“If I had waited to get that fish to certified scales, it would have died,” Clemishire explained. “I didn’t want that to happen. It was in good shape when I let it go, and maybe someone else will get to catch it someday.”

This is exemplary ethics, fly fishing style: kindness, fairness, sportsmanship, reverence for nature and life. Oh, it could all go horribly wrong, I suppose. Maybe Troutzilla keeps growing, and a decade from now attacks and eats little Katie Winthrop, age four, who was standing just ankle-deep in the river as her horrified parents look on. Or even worse, perhaps the fish was the prototype for a race of mutant trout, raised by a mad scientist to conquer the human race. Freed to breed and lead his kind, Troutzilla could achieve his creator’s dream, and become the cruel leader of the vengeful fish masters who enslave us in the near, nightmarish future. In the event of such turns of fate, Mark Clemishire could well be overcome with guilt and remorse.

Well, he shouldn’t be. That’s consequentialism; he did the right thing when he let his prize live, showing wonderful priorities and embodying the essence of the sportsman. No one should blame him if we end up pledging fealty to the Supreme Trout; I know I won’t. Sometimes the most ethical of acts sets in motion a cosmic Rube Goldberg contraption that results in mayhem and tragedy. That doesn’t mean the act wasn’t ethical.

You did good, Mark. Whatever happens, don’t look back.

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Source and Graphic: Kansas City Star

16 thoughts on “Mark Clemishire And The One That Got Away

  1. Cynical thought of the day:

    What if he was actually just over the quantity limit and didn’t want to be caught by going to the department of conservation?

    Of course I jest.

  2. I’ll unintentionally step on the toes of some purist practitioners here, but catch-n-release is (IMHO) one of the most inane activities there is.

    Honestly, what’s the point? The endorphin surge of the strike and pulling it in, glowing in the thrill of victory before the ‘feel good’ moment of ‘sparing’ the fish by allowing it to return. Judge, jury, and instead of executioner, redemption. Is this any different than the disgusting activity they call Trophy hunting? Other than the fish gets the opportunity to go through it all over again, and again. What fun!

    I’m not a PETA supporter by any means, but who in their right mind thinks that sinking a hook into something, pulling it out of the water, basking in the ‘moment’ while the fish is suffering, pulling the hook out, throwing it back, and thinking nothing ‘s different with the fish being none-the-worse-for wear?

    Now, I’m told the fish doesn’t ‘feel’ anything when one yanks out the hook. The sound of the hook being yanked out (while the fish is hyperventilating) suggests otherwise, and I’ve yet to have a fish confirm or deny the absence of pain.

    End of rant.

    • “Other than the fish gets the opportunity to go through it all over again, and again. What fun!”
      Hey! it’s the only way they’ll learn.
      -Jut

    • I’ll release fish that are too small- even the panfish with no minimum size. It’s a combination of the amount of meat not being worth the bother of cleaning, as well as trying to allow more growth for bigger fish later. I also usually keep my catch in a live well- at the end of the day, if I don’t have enough for a meal, I’ll release the whole mess. Beyond that, though, fishing is for the purpose of obtaining sweet delicious fish.

    • I agree with this, essentially. I don’t get hunting or fishing for sport rather than sustenance…killing living things isn’t sport to me. But I am measuring the ethics within the context of the sport as it is, without passing judgment on the sport itself. I think pro football is unethical—I’m not sure that precludes an ethical pro football player.

      • Out of curiosity, do you find it unethical to hunt/fish for food when it’s not your only source of sustenance? I mean, it would be much more time-efficient and probably cheaper for me to buy meat and fish at the store, I also enjoy hunting and fishing both for the variety of game and also for the enjoyment of the sport. There’s also a fairly booming charity in Michigan for deer hunters to donate their kills to the hungry, but that’s a different issue.

        • No, I don’t find having a place in the food chain unethical, and I think doing your own dirty work and killing your own food is ethically preferable to doing it by proxy. If you have to do it, you can certainly make it a sport or game…

          • Or as I heard it put somwhere that I tragically can’t remember (I think a book by Scot Adams, the Dilbert guy?): Sure, hunters are nature lovers. It’s a lot easier to see more nature once you put peepholes thorugh all the animals.

          • And, while I am INCREDIBLY fond of venison, it is sadly, quite difficult to find in the grocery meat market. Leaves me with the only real alternative…go find my own.

  3. At the risk of offending some fly fisherman purists, I remember when I was in my 20s and catching a large silver salmon off Newport Beach in So. California. I didn’t even have a gaff with me so I grabbed him by the gills and got him aboard my small runabout. He became dinner that night after I smoked him. PETA asserts now that “fish have feelings.” But somehow I don’t think so. Anyway, I guess you can catch and release if you want to but fishing is sport and sustenance for some of us.

  4. PWS, in case you’re serious…
    Catch and release is just as ethical as catch and eat. What isn’t ethical is catch and kill and waste. If it bothers you to catch and release do something else. But please spare us the scorn of a perfectly reasonable activity that you have emotional feelings about.

    • wyogranny;

      Personally, I’m a live and let live kinda guy and couldn’t care less if someone wants to snag a fish, look at it, pull the hook out, then throw it back.

      No scorn intended, expressed, or implied. Honestly, is my opinion de facto “emotional feelings” or is it thus because I see things differently than you?

      I look at it the same way I do tattoos and body piercing; I don’t get it, it’s not for me, and it makes absolutely no sense to me. If someone want to indulge themselves, have at it; they surely don’t need my approval or permission to so do. But if they seek or require anything beyond my indifference, like me endorsing or validating their undertaking, then we have a problem.

      “Catch and release is just as ethical as catch and eat.”

      If you see it that way, fine; you know you don’t need or require my approval or permission. But sorry, I’m just not buying it.

      Both are activities; the former is not one to which I would refer as ‘perfectly reasonable.’ That’s just my take; simple as that.

      There are “hunters,” (I use the term very loosely) in Iron County, WI that bait immature bears, then chase them down and tree them with dogs. What they call ‘sport’ and unequivocally view as a ‘perfectly reasonable activity’ doesn’t end up as well as most of your released fish.

      I don’t agree with that either, but just like with catch and release, I merely choose not to participate.

      • You sounded a little emotional and scornful to me. If that impression was wrong I apologize for getting your intent wrong and making assumptions.

      • Paul, the real problem I have with “catch and release” is that it gives people a chance to put one hand over their heart and the back of their hand at their forehead and see themselves as conservation heroes. Unfortunately, most of these guys are unaware that grabbing a fish with dry hands will strip off its layer of protective mucus and leave it open to a large variety of fungal, viral and biological infections, sealing its doom just as clearly as taking it home and eating it.

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