It all started with Instagram. That's the place I first noticed hashtags taking off and their great potential to link topics. What drove me nuts was how many photos I was seeing of fish up on the dry bank and tagged #catchandrelease. I wondered how many people realized those fish were not likely to survive, and continued the practice to keep feeding their social media audience. I wondered how many people were drawn to fishing because of the stunning imagery they'd seen online, and viewed this kind of practice as the norm for how C&R works and what it looks like. With camera phones in every angler's pocket and the insatiable expansion of social media, it seemed like catch & release needed a voice. A way of nudging anglers to consider that how they handled & released fish made all the difference in whether it lived or died- despite what the hashtag said.
I recalled a trout photography presentation I'd given years back and one of my sub-titles "Keep 'em Wet". The phrase suggested a primary element of ideal C&R and packed together as a hashtag had a catchy spark to it. I wanted to communicate many things at once, and a fish that was kept wet in the first place would likely avoid many additional handling impacts. So I created a hashtag for my trout and steelhead photos- #keepemwet.
From that time in early 2013 the tag caught on with friends and colleges in fly fishing culture. A bit later a buddy pointed out quarrels breaking out on social media- conflict, name calling and spats over the use of the tag. People were leveling accusations at each other as hypocrites for using the hashtag while also posting photos of fish out of water. The tag was being used as a divisive insult and polarizing the fishing community. I was completely blow away at how out of context and confrontational it was becoming. With the help and encouragement from Paul Moinester, I decided to take ownership of the phrase and it's meaning- as I'd intended it.
We set out to define keepemwet as synonymous with the multitude of science-based principles of catch & release, and assembled a coalition to promote these examples in this new era of social media. We reached out to Dr. Andy Danylchuk, a leading fisheries scientist and professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Andy expressed support and enthusiasm for the keepemwet concept and joined the team. I reached out to the many friends at different companies within the fly fishing industry and explained the support we were seeking to promote better C&R practices. Companies, media outlets and conservation organizations joined us left & right. Keepemwet Fishing™ was born.
Looking ahead my hope is for Keepemwet Fishing to unite anglers of all kinds while promoting C&R practices that benefit everyone. In the future I think it can expand beyond fish handling to larger habitat and conservation topics, tying in relationships and becoming a bridge between science and angling communities. Despite the political leanings or stereotype profiles of the vast range of angler groups around the world, they all want to catch more fish, period. Science is revealing new variables that impact overall catch rates, and Keepemwet Fishing wants to share that understanding.
Thanks for coming along.