I've spent the last twenty-five years chasing the fish that swim in our local waters and I've enjoyed every minute of it! During that time, I've made some remarkable friends and together we've learned a great deal by spending loads of time on the water.
Did you ever wonder if you caught the same fish more than once, twice, three times or more? If you fish the same waters enough, wouldn't you think it's likely to come across the same fish at least a few times during their lifetimes? For years, I suspected I had been catching at least a few fish over and over again, but without any identifiers, I had no hard proof.
Wanting to understand fish behavior a little more, I became a member of the American Littoral Society's Fish Tagging Program - the largest volunteer, saltwater fish-tagging program in the United States. I don't tag every fish I catch, as circumstances aren't always conducive to fish tagging, but I tag my share. Most of the fish I tag are striped bass. As you may imagine, receiving my first tag return made my day. With tag returns coming from as far as Maine, I thought the odds of me recapturing a saltwater fish with access to the Atlantic Ocean would be much less than recapturing a largemouth bass in a small pond.
From the Delaware River to Maine!
As luck would have it, last fall while fishing a midnight tide, it happened - I caught a small resident striped bass with a bright yellow tag attached. It turned out it was a fish I tagged just a few weeks ago. I finally had my proof! If I could catch the same fish in a backwater channel with access to the ocean, surely I could catch the same largemouth bass in a small neighborhood pond.
On December 11, 2015 I caught this striped bass for the second time.
Flash forward to June 8, 2016. I caught a beautiful 20-inch largemouth bass with a distinguishable spot on its tail. Last Tuesday, July 5, I caught the same 20-inch fish in the same location with the same spot on its tail. I wondered if I had caught this fish before. After comparing the recent photo, I had my proof.
A largemouth bass with a spot on its tail was caught on June 8, 2016
The same spot-tail bass was caught again on July 5, 2016
I fish a lot and I think about fishing even more. If you're like me, you know what I'm talking about. If not, feel free to call me a fishing geek. With the recent recapture of a fish I caught a little less than a month ago, I began wondering how many times I could catch the same fish in a lifetime, year, month, week or day? Without some type of identifier, it would be nearly impossible for me to distinguish one 16-inch bass from another.
A couple days passed before I received a daily update from Timehop – an app on my iPhone that shows me pictures and posts from the same date of prior years. Technology is great right? As it turns out, on July 8, 2015, I see myself holding the very same, but somewhat smaller spot-tail bass in the same location. This photo put me over the top and my wheels have been spinning ever since.
The same spot-tail bass was caught almost exactly a year before.
The saltwater fish-tagging programs offer a ton of valuable information so why aren't we doing the same with freshwater species? With the current technology available to most anglers, we could do amazing things to improve our understanding of many types of fisheries. The possibilities I'm considering seem endless!
In my opinion, fish tagging promotes catch and release practices even more. It is through these types of experiences that we can truly appreciate catch and release fishing - a fish can only be caught a second time if it was released the first time. I also see fish tagging as another tactic to introduce young anglers to fishing – a fish with your tag in it gives you a vested interest in that particular fish.
I'll see you again soon!
With little information available regarding freshwater fish tagging in New Jersey, my first hurdle will be acquiring a fish-tagging permit from the state. After some research, I found this paragraph in the 2016 Freshwater Fishing Digest concerning fish tagging "No person may tag or mark and then release a fish without first obtaining a fish stocking permit or by special permit issued by Fish and Wildlife. Contact the bureau of Freshwater Fisheries for application information." I'm hoping to meet whatever requirements the state has for issuing permits for fish tagging. I'll follow up with a phone call or two to the state early next week and keep you posted. Wish me luck!