I am a Muskie guy first and foremost... that said, I really enjoy the early part of the season, which provides me an opportunity to catch large numbers of active gamefish like Crappie, Bass etc....before getting down to the serious business of generating a couple bites a day from the premier gamefish in our area...muskies.
Thanks to slot limits, reasonable harvest limitations and the idea that you can catch a fish mutiple times by handling it carefully, fishing for many species can almost rival "the good ole days," and in the case of Muskies the "good ole days" are right now.
I start the gamefish season every year by targeting crappies. This year, I was fortunate to hear about a hot bite on a local lake that turned out to be no secret, when I arrived the landing was full and I could see many boats in the "hot area." Pan fish are comonly overharvested and the tasty crappie is no exception...especially early in the season when they are mostly spawners...the future. I pulled into the hot area expecting the worst case scenario but was pleasantly surprised to see the majority of the fish caught being released... a few for the pan here and there but a large group of anglers practicing good conservation and having a great time with the eager crappies. The bite was on and many of the fish I caught showed evidence of previous capture...small tears and hook marks that were not caused by my capture. These fish had obviously survived previous encounters and were healthy, eager and hungry....and I was glad to have a chance to catch them and experience the encounter and release them to spawn, eat and fight another day. I suppose a fish or two may not have made it...or maybe were a bit less responsive making them an easier meal for a predator later on...but the bigger fish was going to find a meal anyway so the balance of nature remained intact. I am confident most of my releases "made it" and I know for sure they had a better chance of doing so by careful handling and a good release....the fry pan had significantly higher consequences, for sure. I kept a few for the pan as well... no harm there either as long as decent restraint is used. But the real fun was in the experience, watching kids and adults alike getting their fill of the outdoors.
Some folks get concerned when someone talks about catching dozens of fish in an outing, but my experience has been that the anglers experienced and talented enough to catch a whole bunch are the best at handling fish. A bass angler who catches dozens in an outing doesn't keep fish out of the water for minutes to get a picture...he already has caught hundreds or thousands and no longer needs a picture of every good one...he carries those pictures in his head.
Muskies are perhaps the poster child for catch and release...the prime reason muskie fishing is better today than ever. A few years back some Canadian Providences raised size minimums for harvest on muskies. Even on huge remote bodies of water like Lake of the Woods longtime guides report that average catch size increased shortly after these laws were put into place. On Lake Minnetonka, where I guide, the DNR estimated a couple of years ago that the population of adult muskies was around 1100 fish... a large number to some, but to put it into perspective around 100 adults hit my net every year and I personally know a handfull of others with similar success. If catch and release didn't work we would have literally eradicated the lake of fish years ago. So if the term catch and release doesn't sound right to you, try the term recycling because that is what is really happening...putting a fish back so it can be caught again.