Influence Anglers to Follow Personal Catch and Creel Limits More Restrictive than the Law Allows, by using Rewards, Positive Reinforcement, and Facts back by Scientific Research.
Create an Improved and Sustainable Abundance of Fish for Future Generations to Catch
What is Release Over 20″?
If you listen to any old-timer, they will tell you about the abundance of fish back in the day. There were so many fish, you couldn’t imagine making a dent in the population. As such, there were no limits so everyone kept as many fish as they wanted. With the benefit of scientific advancement and hindsight we now know that it’s simply not sustainable in today’s world.
Who doesn’t want more trophy fish to catch (and release)?
The science behind the resource tells us there are many reasons we should Release Over 20, including:
- For most species, the largest/trophy fish are female.
- Large fish are survivors. They have survived the gauntlet of angling pressure, predation, cold snaps, etc. to reach their current age.
- These survivor fish may have survived because of superior genetics. It’s important that they are able to spawn and propagate those genes.
- Catch and release works, as long as we follow best practices for fish handling.
There are several issues that act as multipliers toward unsustainability of our fisheries, including:
- Unprecedented numbers of anglers on the water
- Ever improving technology (side-scan, live scope)
- A flood of freely accessible information on fishing instruction, down to very specific information on how, what, where and when to catch fish (YouTube)
- Reduced habitat for fish (coastal construction, loss of sea grasses)
- Increasing pollution (runoff, fertilizers, pesticides)
Our state regulations are simply not keeping up with all of this. So, what can we do about it? Create and follow your upper slot and bag limits.
You can make an impact on a personal level, immediately, starting today.
And tell people what you’re doing and why. That is our philosophy.
We are hopeful that if we can get enough anglers to start following these principles – that we can make a measurable improvement in abundance and sustainability in our fisheries, and that our kids and grandkids will have more and better fish to catch than we do.
Plus, if you release your fish, we will reward you for it!
Release Over 20 is a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization – Contributions are tax deductible.
The concept of Release Over 20″ began as an epiphany sometime around 2012 when I inquired about the possibility of ever having an upper-slot for spotted seatrout in SC, and was told it would never happen. My purpose was somewhat selfish. I wanted there to be more “gator” trout in Charleston, and knew that the bigger fish were usually female and provided survivor genes that were important to be spawned and propagated to future generations.
The reason an upper-slot would never happen in SC is that laws regarding natural resources are made by the state legislature, which puts the public first and not necessarily the resource. Frustrated, it occurred to me that even though the law allows it doesn’t mean I couldn’t make my own upper-slot and follow it as if it were the law. My own personal law! I didn’t have to wait for anyone, I could do it myself, immediately.
Since then, I have done just that. I set my own upper-slot for trout to 20″ and have released every fish that has exceeded that length to this day. This was back when social media existed mostly in online forums, and when I took a pic with a big trout I always posted about how I release all my trout over 20″ and why.
While attending some fishing Expo’s I was approached by others who had read my posts and agreed, stating that they too were practicing Release Over 20″. Fast forward to 2020, and my business partner Ralph and I were guests on the Eastern Current podcast to discuss our company Eye Strike Fishing. I was relating the story above and mentioned that I was thinking of making it some sort of initiative, but was unsure what to call it or if anyone would care.
An interested listener, Joe Neely from CCA North Carolina, contacted me and encouraged me to make this happen – as it was directly in line with the message they were trying to convey to the angling public. This was the kick-in-the-butt I needed, and we came up with the name Release Over 20 and a logo.
I came up with a system of rewards to encourage anglers to follow Release Over 20, including the ability to enter their releases into a database and opt to receive free decals. In addition, I solicited corporate sponsors to donate in-kind items that we in turn give away to winners of a monthly random drawing – just for doing the right thing. I want to acknowledge that the system of rewards was inspired by the Empty Stringers Catch & Release Program started by Capt Wayne Davis and Capt Ernest Cisneros from southern Texas, and also the Dirty 30 Citation program by The Speckled Truth. We are proud to be associated with these other like-minded conservation programs and people.
Of course, the philosophy of Release Over 20 can be applied to other species that are in decline or in need of support. For that reason, we have since added Southern Flounder to the program on 1/1/2021 and Sheepshead on 9/1/2021. We expect to add more species to the list as we identify them. We are finding that species with more dinner-table appeal are a tougher hill to climb towards influencing change in angler mindsets, however, we believe that its just a little earlier in cycle of change for these species. Both Flounder and Sheepshead have compelling, science-based, reasons for being released.
I’ve never claimed to be the first person to advocate for releasing bigger fish, and of course, many people have done it for years. But, I hope that by starting Release Over 20, I have given others something to rally around, talk about, and hopefully participate in. That’s all I could hope for.
Since its inception in May 2020, the initiative has grown beyond my expectations and has been embraced by anglers from Texas to New York. In hopes of expanding our reach further, I decided to build it into a standalone non-profit in the Fall of 2021 and brought on partners Kerry Browning and Adam Fahrer to help build the organization.
We are very excited for the future of Release Over 20″, and can’t wait to see what the future holds. Let’s work together and make a change for the better!
– David Fladd, Founder