Use the pump properly, but don’t kill the fish

pumpAn angler using a stomach pump to see what a fish has been eating can be a very controversial topic among fly fishing enthusiasts. When used properly it can be a very educational tool but often times a stomach pump is used improperly resulting in the well meaning angler killing the very fish he is trying to preserve. For this reason many fly fishing shops prefer not to keep them in inventory as a statement of their dedication to the resource. In my opinion, not selling them doesn’t prevent fisherman from purchasing them elsewhere and unknowingly using them improperly.

I believe that a pump can be used properly to gain knowledge without harming the fish, and instead of speaking in a condescending manner to the angler who would like to purchase and use one; the fly shop offers a platform to inform anglers of how to use the tool to their advantage without harming the fish.

The worst thing that can be done is to call it a ‘stomach pump’. The name itself conjures up an idea of how it should be used. Ironically the same fisherman that uses a stomach pump is most often the angler who prefers to release a fish unharmed to fight another day. For many fly fishing purists, it crosses ethical lines, do to the fact that fish are often unnoticeably injured and subsequently killed as a result of improper use of the tool. At this point the angler might as well kill the fish and eat it because it will most likely die anyway. It is not uncommon for a bait fisherman to kill a fish and cut open its stomach in order to inspect its contents and discover what it has been eating. It may satisfy a curiosity but anyone who has done it knows that most of the time, all that will be found is a dark ball of half digested gunk. In my opinion the tool should be called a ‘throat sampler’

So how does one utilize a pump to his or her advantage without harming the fish?

  1. First, all of the air should be removed from the bulb and the tube by holding it under water and squeezing the bulb a few times. At this point, the bulb and tube will be completely full of water.
  2. Next, the bulb should be squeezed to expel most of the water and with the bulb held in the squeezed position and the fish still being held in the water (for me it is in my net), the tube should be inserted into the fish’s mouth at the back of the mouth and at the entrance of the throat.
  3. Now, by releasing the grip on the bulb, a void is created inside the bulb and if there are insects near the end of the tube, they will be sucked into the tube for angler to view and inspect.

A few things to note.

  1. First and foremost, never push the tube beyond the back of a fish’s throat. As an angler, I don’t really care about what is way down in the throat, or the stomach of a fish. After all, I’m not trying to determine what the fish ate two or three hours ago, I want to know what it has been eating in the last twenty minutes. For this reason, there is simply no need to push a stomach pump way down into a fish.
  2. Finally, NEVER squeeze the bulb when the tube is in a fish. Squeezing water into a fish can easily rupture the fish.

Whether you feel it is ethical or unethical to use a stomach, actually a throat pump. It is legal, and using a pump properly can be fun and educational.