FlatsWorthy President Chuck Naiser recently had a chat with Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program founders Ernest Cisneros and Wayne Davis. Ernest is a guide out of South Padre and Wayne is a guide out of Port Mansfield and the owner of K Wigglers. They run Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program together.
How long have you been fishing and guiding?
EC: I’ve been guiding about 17 years. I guide mainly out of South Padre. I am a retired school teacher of 28 years, and for most of my educational career I guided part-time until I retired in 2016 and now guide on a full-time basis.
WD: I’ve been guiding since 2005. Before that I was in law enforcement for 22 years. I’m a retired Police Chief. (Castle Hills). I also guided towards the end of my career.
What’s the motivation for the movement of Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program?
WD: I would go out and fish with a large group, and they like to keep the fish. On one outing we had 5 anglers on each boat; everyone got full limits of red, trout, flounder. Stringers were full of fish, and everyone was posting pictures everywhere. It got me to thinking “this seems a little excessive.”
EC: Yes, and when we first came up with the idea, everyone thought “We’re chopping our own hand off.“ This was May 2016. The idea just took hold and Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program started March 2017.
WD: Ernest thought of the name Empty Stringers because these stringers were just filled to the gills.
What’s the difference between Empty Stringers and Catch and Release?
EC: What I did in the beginning was I contacted our nature sponsors. I told them I needed swag items. So when someone contacts us and wants to book a trip we ask them “Would you like to participate in Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program?” If you agree before the trip to catch and release at end of trip you get a swag item. Everyone on the trip has to participate. They also get a ticket and put their name and number on it. At the end of the year at the Holder Fishing Show in Houston, one person who did Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program will get a major prize donated by sponsors. These prizes are valued around $1300-$1500.
What % of people would you say support Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program?
EC: My clients are at about 50% of the trips as Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program trips.
WD: My clients are at about 40% Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program trips.
EC: Sometimes we have 2 days trips that might do Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program one day and choose to keep their catch one day.
EC: Donors are coming to us. Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program participants are donating money for us to purchase branded items.
How successful do you think this has been? In terms of recognition among anglers?
WD: It’s out there. We have a Facebook, which doesn’t have a lot of traction, but 60-80 clients a year are doing the Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program.
EC: We have released over 6,300 fish in the 3 years this program has been in existence. This is the Keeper fish, not all fish. We don’t count any undersized fish. Now they see we are for real and here to stay, people call us and want to participate. We are no longer being ridiculed, we are gaining the respect of people around us. It’s an organic, grass-roots movement.
WD: Law is reactive. This movement is proactive. Just because you can take 3 reds, doesn’t mean you should.
How can FlatsWorthy promote you and Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program?
WD: Just recognizing we exist. It’s easy. Any guide anywhere can do their own Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program. It’s up to the guides to offer the program to their clients.
EC: Just making it aware to people out there. Letting people know.
Why should people practice Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program?
WD: Why shouldn’t they?
How can FlatsWorthy fit in to South Texas?
WD: Birds of a feather flock together. We’re on the same page and can draw from each other and benefit each other.
WD: FlatsWorthy leans toward etiquette, and Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program leans into conservation.
What else would you like us to know?
EC: There are other guides before us that have done catch and release, but this is taking it to the next level. Put it on social media and put a name to it.
WD: We never take stringer shots. All of our public displays are either single shots, action shots, or release shots. We try to build on that foundation. It goes hand in hand with the conservation mindset.