There's an unofficial ritual to examining the fish anglers have been fortunate to land. First, you need to make sure it is under your control while it's still alive, and then make sure it dies quickly. The fatal action varies from a quick snap of the neck on a delicate little brookie to a couple of whacks with a stout club to settle down a net-filling king salmon.
Once you're sure the fish won't flop out of your hands and back into the creek or out of the boat, then you can relax and give your prize a good looking over.
Estimating the size is usually done next, including stating confidently it's probably a 12-inch brook trout (which usually measures out at 8 or 9 inches) or a 20-pound chinook (which probably tips the scale a few pounds lighter).
Greg Sanville of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment examines a nice size chinook salmon recently. The king was taken out of Lake Michigan off Fairport at the tip of the Garden Peninsula. (Journal photo by Dave Schneider)
The general appearance is also noted before carefully placing it in your grass-lined creel if it's a brookie or tossing it in the ice-filled cooler if it's a big lake fish.
The anglers attention then shifts back to the more important task at hand - catching more fish.
However, there may be more scrutinizing in store for those stowed away fish, as we learned recently while fishing a derby out of Fairport.
After we brought our cooler in to clean our catch, a guy came up to us and asked if he could examine our fish.
He was a friendly fellow and sported a green t-shirt with a Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment patch on it, so we gladly carried our cooler over to his "work station."
This station was pretty basic. It included a folding table, scale, measuring board, clipboard with data collection sheets, envelopes to place scales in and a knife.
DNRE creel census worker Greg Sanville said he likes working during fishing tournaments because he usually gets to examine a wide range of fish. Plus, he said he gets to talk about fishing with a whole bunch of happy anglers.
Besides being an enjoyable job, the DNRE creel census program nets a lot of valuable information that helps guide fisheries management programs, according to Darren Kramer, fisheries biologist at the DNRE's Escanaba office.
Included in information gathered are how many hours of fishing effort anglers put in, what fish they are targeting and how many fish they caught to help determine a catch rate.
In addition, biological data is collected, including the length, weight, age and sex. Kramer said coded tags are imbedded in the head area of some chinooks.
If the adipose fin is clipped, the DNRE takes the head so the tag can be removed and read, indicating the age and when and where it was released, Kramer said.
"The creel census program has been very good. We have been doing a lot of ports for a long time," he said. "We see ... harvest trends, such as size changes. It's another tool we use in managing the fisheries."
With that in mind, I certainly don't mind taking a few minutes to allow the fish I catch be examined before I fire up the grill.
Editor's note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His e-mail address is email@example.com.