I was taken fishing before I could walk. I'd be set on a quilt spread on the ground while the adults fished. As soon as I could walk and hold a cane pole I was fishing. It was meat fishing. Anything big enough to eat was eaten. Not big enough to fillet, filleting was considered highly wasteful. But if it was big enough to be worth cooking, it was cooked.
I was an avid hunter starting at about age eight. At that age I was allowed to take a 12 gauge shotgun and go out by myself in pursuit of rabbits and squirrels. Anything I killed had to be brought home for the table, and I had to clean it of course. I would be given 10 shotgun shells, and those were counted when I returned. I got a pretty good whipping for every shell fired that didn't put meat on the table. It had the intended consequence of making me a careful shot. I remained an avid hunter into my mid-thirties, mostly hunting deer. I loved to hunt deer. But what I loved about hunting deer wasn't so much killing deer as it was being in the woods. Deer for the table was the reason for being out there. I wasn't hunting antlers, I was hunting meat.
Eventually I lost the desire to kill deer, or anything else for that matter, and with that "driver" gone I rarely went into the woods. But I kept fishing, and eating the fish I caught as long as they were a tasty species and of legal size. Eventually I morphed into a bass fisherman. And the catch and release slowly began. For a while I continued to kill and eat the fish, bass though were never high up on my list of tasty fish. They aren't all that bad really, but there is a limit on how much I enjoy bass meat.
Slowly I started to return the keepers back into the water, having no particular desire to eat them. I was catching them for the sport of tricking them into biting and then the great fight. Ultimately I specialized in plastic worm bass fishing. I got pretty good at that too. By that time I was releasing all of them. There was no epiphany, no sudden urge to release, no tipping point. It just came along slowly and naturally.
Then I left the specialization of bass fishing behind and just went fishing. I enjoyed each and every type of fish I caught. By now I had replaced being in the woods hunting with being in the woods, or out on a lake, fishing. Fishing still provided the "driver" to get away from civilization. I went to a lot of remote places to fish, camped out for days sometimes. And while camping I'd kill and eat a few fish, but the majority I released. During this camping phase I went into the Army and lost my love of camping. So I went to remote areas I could fish without having to spend the night doing it. Leave early, get home late, sleep in my bed. And no fish to clean when I got home late. Catch and Release had side benefits.
Nowdays I still, but rarely, kill and eat fish. When I do it's either bluegills, crappie, or catfish. There's a uniqueness to Catch and Release, you can't do that in any other blood sport. There's no catch and release in hunting, although hunting with a camera might come close.
I didn't just become a C&R fisherman overnight, it was a slow process for me, and I'm not "purely" a C&R fishermen since about once a year I'll take some fish home for dinner. I love C&R because it gets me outdoors, I get to experience the wildlife up close and personal, even holding wild animals in my hands. And then I can put them back and have the satisfaction of the chase, the hunt, the catch, and the really deep satisfaction of watching the fish swim away to continue on.
Catch and release isn't for everyone, and that is the way it should be. It is for those that have a desire to get out and away, to enjoy the chase, the hunt. A chance to get right up next to wildlife in many forms, even to hold some in your hand. It has benefits for the fishery and for the fishermen, and for other fishermen too. There's tremendous pleasure in letting a trophy size fish go back into the water, and for letting the tiny ones go back too.
If you're a fisherman that obeys size limits, you too are a C&R fisherman, if you think about it.
Fly fishing and C&R seem to be a natural combination. I first began fly fishing at age 15, in the back channels of the marshes along the Charles River. When we left there I left fly fishing for many years, and continued fishing with gear. Eventually I ended up on the Brazos and fly fishing was a natural for the location. I gave it a whirl again and haven't used anything else since. Fly fishing has a more personal relationship between the fish and the fisherman, a more direct form of contact with the fish's fight. Maybe it's that direct and personal contact with the fish that makes it more likely to lead to releasing the fish.