I think panfishing is so fun because they always take stuff off the top. rarely if ever are you going to test your line strength on these fish (though I have landed a few that could have easily filled a standard sized skillet) but you are never going to be disappointed with their takes of stuff off the top.
Back then they would have scoffed at the idea of catch and release primarily because food was never something you threw away. In fact I imagine if you would have asked about their catch and release views they would have looked at you for a long minute and say something to the effect that 'occationaly one got off the hook but with a good set you can easily bring them in.'
Don't get me wrong, I would never pull a bugger out of a big bass's mouth in favor of hooking a bluegill and I would always choose a trout water over a bream pond if the two were side by side but for a few hours to kill and no time to head to the mountains, fishing for these little (and sometimes skillet sized) panfish is non stop action at its finest. All fly fisherman can agree that any fish that consistently takes dry flies off the top is a worthy and fun species to catch.