Not long ago, I was editing an article about BogaGrips, an expensive, pliers-like fishing tool that enables saltwater anglers to pick up fish — say large stripers — by the lips after they work the fish up to the gunwale.

Apparently, some well-meaning folks want BogaGrips outlawed because this tool encourages anglers to hang large fish vertically in the air, injuring the spinal column and internal organs.

This continuing story in pushing for experimental angling laws is a topic that has intrigued me throughout my life.

Catch-and-release anglers have searched for humane ways to land fish without injuring them, and in the process, these advocates influence lawmakers to prohibit certain landing devices, forcing the public to buy new gadgets to replace old ones.

And guess what?

Old gadgets might have worked badly, but often, so do new ones.

For example, before catch and release became the craze with Atlantic salmon in the 1970s, Maine fly rodders legally gaffed this absolute king of freshwater game fish. Even back then, this practice with ancient, honorable Old World roots surprised me, a barbaric way to treat a lordly species.

When anglers tired a hooked salmon and worked it close enough, they reached out with a gaff — a sharp hook on the end of a wooden or aluminum handle — and drove the razor-sharp point through the salmon’s side to haul the skewered fish ashore. (At the time, folks with gaffs did not release fish.)

Then, outlawing gaffs happened so quickly it surprised Mainers. The law pleased me at the time, and I was quick to tell people that fact.

At the time, an alternative quickly filled the vacancy — salmon tailers. This gadget had a handle, shaft and cable noose that lassoed the tail, enabling the angler to drag a hooked fish ashore. This landing tool also encouraged folks to hang fish vertically in the air.

Tailers allegedly didn’t hurt fish, and transported far easier than a landing net large enough for fish averaging 10 pounds. Indeed, long before Mainers outlawed gaffs, the use of tailers for salmon was growing in Canada, despite the price of $70.

Interestingly to me, a Maine fly shop selling tailers pushed hard to outlaw gaffs here — a vested interest not lost on salmon anglers at the time.

This story illustrated how a law can sometimes be nothing more nor less than an experiment. The tailer proved to be an excellent example, because later research showed it caused an unforeseen problem: It could injure a salmon’s spinal column and organs, not good when releasing the fish to continue upstream to spawn. And, at the time, catch and release was growing as a way to protect our fisheries resources.

Hand-tailing salmon — a la the great Atlantic-salmon angler, Lee Wulff — became the craze in the 1980s. While fishing in Canada, where Atlantic salmon were plentiful, I have landed many fish by latching onto the tail with my trusty right hand, an easy technique to master and a seemingly foolproof method for safely landing and releasing fish.

However, later research proved hand-tailing led to two problems:

1. As I said, fish shouldn’t hang vertically, and furthermore, during the release, they should be horizontally supported in water so internal organs and vertebrate don’t compact.

2. Improper hand-tailing injures cartilage and particularly the spinal column in the wrist-like peduncle just ahead of the caudal fin.

Here’s a description of improper hand-tailing: Let’s say the salmon lies in front of an angler with the head pointing to the left and the tail in front of the right shoulder. The angler reaches down with the right hand, palm-side down, with the index finger and thumb to the left so the other three fingers squeeze onto the tail fin, squashing it. Not only does this injure the salmon’s spinal column, but it’s inefficient.

Proper hand-tailing puts the right hand palm-side up, with the index finger and thumb next to the caudal and the three fingers completely on the peduncle, eliminating the big squash of the tail fin. It also gives anglers a more sure grip, as all four fingers wrap around the solid peduncle.

However, even proper hand-tailing often results in the fish hanging vertically, which has given BogaGrips a bad rap these days.

Shallow rubber nets have been the darling of catch-and-release advocates (like me) for 20 years. These nets keep fish from losing scales and natural slime and eliminate fish tangling themselves in the mesh, making releases safer and easier on the quarry.

However, shallow rubber nets have now come under fire, too. I was recently editing an article by a well-known national outdoors writer who talked about the “trampoline effect” of these nets when scooping up large, salty fish species. A striper bounced from his net a la trampoline and slammed onto the boat floor, influencing him to give up using this net style.

Well-meaning folks push for new ways to land fish without properly testing the new gadgets to ensure their safety for sports fish. The only folks who win the game are manufacturers and retailers.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]