A lot of fisherman practice catch and release, but whether they practice it correctly is the question. Just because the fish swam away and doesn’t seem any worse for the wear doesn’t mean it will survive another day. By following the suggestions below you will greatly improve the survival rate of the next fish you put back in the water.
- Use barbless hooks or flatten out the barbs on your hooks using a pair of needle nose pliers or forceps.
- Never use treble hooks.
- Set the hook as quickly as possible, if you’re giving the fish time to “take the bait” then you’re increasing the odds of the fish becoming gut hooked which leads to a high mortality rate.
- A pair of forceps will remove a hook much easier than using your fingers which in turn cause less stress to the fish.
- Land the fish as quickly as possible. Fish that are played become exhausted and have an increased build up of Lactic acid in their body. An increase of Lactic acid in the fish inhibits muscle performance. One of the muscles being affected is the heart which is now slower at pumping oxygenated blood through the body. The added stress and lack of oxygen can lead to death several hours later.
The exception to this rule is if you’re fishing at depths greater than 30 feet. At these depths it’s best to bring the fish up slowly to avoid com- plications from the change of pressure and let the fish acclimate. If the swim bladder is swollen do not pop or puncture it. Some suggest that you loosely attach a hook to the fishes lip and weight the line so the fish can get back to deep water as quickly as possible, once there a quick jerk of the pole should dislodge the hook. There is no guarantee the fish will survive. It would be better if you intend on releasing fish to not fish deep water.
- Avoid using live baits as fish tend to swallow those more readily and become gut hooked.
- Avoid handling the fish, if you must handle it make sure to wet your hands first, so you don’t wear off the protective slime layer that fish have. Once the slime layer is removed the fish is susceptible to infection which may ultimately kill it. If you need to use a net use one of the newer soft rubber nets that are not as abrasive to the fishes slime layer.
- Avoid removing the fish from the water. A recent study done on Rainbow Trout showed that fish removed from the water for a mere 30 seconds had a 38% mortality rate within 12 hours and that fish removed from the water for 60 seconds had a mortality rate of 78% within a 12 hour period.
- If you need to remove a fish from the water to remove the hook wet your hand first, gently hold it around the tail and with the other hand support under its chest. Place the fish on a wet towel and remove the hook as fast as possible and place the fish back in the water by the same method. Never toss a fish back in the water.
If you need to take a picture make sure the person with the camera is ready and in position first. Gently lift the fish out of the water by holding around his tail with a wet hand and with the other wet hand supporting the fishes chest. Lift the fish only high enough to get the picture. If the belly of the fish is just touching the water it makes for a more attractive picture anyway and the fish can be submerged that much quicker.
- If the fish was removed from the water or has become exhausted then you need to revive the fish before releasing it. With wet hands hold the fish gently around the tail with one hand and under its chest with the other hand, face the fish into the current, if your fishing still water then gently move the fish back and forth to force water through its gills. The fish will swim away on its own when it is fully revived. Depending on water temperatures and how exhausted the fish was this may take a little time to revive him.
- Avoid fishing for cold water species when the water temperatures are warm. The fish is already under stress from depleted oxygen levels in warm water and adding to the stress of being hooked and handled will most likely be too much to survive.
- If the fish is gut hooked do not try to pull the hook out or remove it, the fish will have a better chance of survival if you cut the line as close to the eyelet as possible. If the fish is bleeding heavily then chances are it will die and if it’s legal to keep it you should.
- For fish that are hooked in the gill area it’s best to keep them if you legally can. If keeping them is prohibited then without doing further damage cut off as much of the hook as possible with a small pair of side cutters and return the fish to the water.
- For fish that are hooked hard inside the mouth it would be best to use a pair of side cutters to remove as much of the hook as possible and then release the fish.
- If you must know the weight of the fish use a tape measure and utilize the weight calculator in this app.
List of Nevers!
- Let a fish flop on the rocks, shoreline or boat deck.
- Lift a fish by the line or hook.
- Hold a fish by its eyes.
- Squeeze a fish while you’re holding it.
- Pick a fish up by or put anything in its gills.
- Toss a fish back into the water.
- Try to pull a swallowed hook out.
- Play a fish to the point of exhaustion.
- Use barbed hooks.
- Weigh a fish on a hanging scale.
- Touch a fish with dry hands.
- Hold a fish by its lip.
Enjoy your time on the water and always leave a fish for another day!