I agree completely. I tie IGFA leaders; I have landed a few big fish on 12- and 16-pound tippets. Interestingly enough, my most notable fish was not a trophy but a tarpon that took much longer to land than I would have anticipated. My buddy and I tried in vain for 45 minutes to revive the weakened fish, but in the end, its eyes went glassy and it sank six feet to the bottom. I’m not the only guy out there to have this happen, either. A guy I know landed a fish in under 10 minutes and it still died. Evans is right — tarpon fishing is a blood sport. I’ll go one step further and offer that, occasionally, there can be unintended collateral damage. But, I have no plans to sell my skiff and eBay my 12-weight rods.
In all of this, there is a new thought process gaining popularity that just might be best defined as a “having your cake and eating it too” approach. I first observed this while fishing with a couple of guides in the Panhandle of Florida. I called Capt. Greg Dini to get his thoughts on this touchy subject.
“For the record, I will not book a trophy hunter.” Dini was adamant when I posed the trophy question to him. “In fact, I do everything in my power to release the fish as quickly as possible. So much so, I’ve convinced my clients to fish without a class tippet; we use a heavy fluorocarbon butt section that runs directly to the fly,” he said. “This way, even with novice anglers, we can boat and release fish in just a few minutes. I use a blood knot two-thirds down the butt as a weak point to help pop the fish off at the boat.” I then asked him about photo ops. “The law states that if you bring a tarpon in the boat, you need a Possession (or kill) Tag. I don’t carry one and never will; all photos are of the fish in the water.”
On the flip side, “What’s the point of fly-fishing if you are fishing with tippets exceeding 20 pounds?” questions Evans. “The IGFA does not recognize class tippets over 20 pounds, and I rarely have to fight a fish over 30 minutes even on 12-pound tippet.” It’s a fact that many fly-fishers have no idea how much pressure can really be placed on 12-pound tippet, let alone 16 or 20.
At the end of the day, this polarizing topic has no more chance of mutual agreement in opposing camps than Congress does of passing a balanced budget. So, regardless of where you stand on trophy hunting or catch-and-release, the bottom line is this: If you are putting a fly in front of a fish with a sharp hook, regardless of the leader strength you are using, you are indeed engaged in a blood sport.