Catch-and-release fishing is becoming ever more prevalent in the fishing community, and with good reason. For starters, catch-and-release fishing allows for the conservation of our precious fishing resources. Sustained fish harvesting can threaten the long-term viability of most fish species.
But, for catch-and-release fishing to be effective, proper techniques must be used. Otherwise fish mortality will be higher than in should be. Proper catch-and-release fishing starts before you even get the fish to the shore or the boat. Use barbless hooks to reduce damage to a fish’s mouth. You can also cut down a treble hook to a double or single hook to help. A single, barbless hook is also easier to remove from a fish’s mouth. This means you can get the fish quickly back into the water.
Don’t overplay the fish you catch. The longer a fish fights, the more tired it gets. An exhausted fish is more susceptible to predators, the current, and diseases. These factors all increase fish mortality. The one exception to this rule comes when fishing in deep water. You might want to bring fish hooked in deep water up slowly. Otherwise the fish is likely to die because its swim bladder balloons as you pull it up through the water column. There are also some other inventive techniques for successfully releasing a deep-caught fish.
A net can often help you land a fish. It helps immobilize the fish, which means it won’t damage itself flopping around near the shore or boat. Once you bring the fish in, make sure you wet your hands. Fish are covered with a protective slime. This slime helps guard against diseases and parasites. Dry hands can wipe this slime off. Wet your hands so the fish doesn’t lose any protection against disease.
You can also use wet gloves to protect the fish. Use a soft knotless net to help maintain its protective slime. Don’t squeeze your catch or touch its sensitive gills when holding it to remove the hook. You can use a hemostat or pair of needle-nosed pliers to help you remove the hook.
However, if the fish is gut-hooked, don’t try to remove the hook. Just cut the line as close as you can to the hook. The hook will rust out eventually. It will do more damage to the fish if it is yanked out of its guts than if it is left in.
Most catch-and-release fisherman use lures. Fish won’t swallow a lure like they will live bait. You can still release fish you have caught on live bait, though. Using circle-type bait hooks can make it easier for anglers to catch-and-release with live bait. These hooks are designed to hook the mouth and not be swallowed.
While it is tempting to snap a lot of pictures of a big fish, keep the picture-taking within reasonable bounds. You don’t want to keep the fish out of water too long. Take a couple of quick pics, and then get the fish back into the water. Or better yet, don’t even take the fish out of the water. Get a picture with the fish in the water instead of in the air.
If you’re fishing alone and have the cash, you can buy a GoPro to take pictures or videos. Wearing a GoPro means you are not stumbling around for your phone or camera. If you are not stumbling around for your camera, you can get the fish back into the water quickly.
Don’t put the fish on the ground. This will only remove slime and stress the fish unnecessarily.
If possible, release the fish facing upstream in calm water. When a fish is facing the current, water flows over the gills and helps the fish get needed oxygen. Releasing a fish in calm water allows it to recuperate without also having to fight a strong current. You might need to gently wave the fish back and forth with your hand while it is in the water. This helps it re-oxygenate itself.
These tips will give the fish you release a greater chance of surviving. More surviving fish means more fish will be able to reproduce. This means fishing stocks will remain healthy.
But, this is not to say that keeping fish is always wrong. Bringing home dinner is why people started fishing in the first place. If you do want to bring home dinner, consider fishing for particular fish at particular times. For instance, panfish reproduce faster and in greater numbers than game fish. Bring home some crappie or bluegill instead of bass. Some fish do not naturally reproduce in a lake and are reliant on stocking. Keep a stocked rainbow trout instead of a wild brook trout, for example.
If you follow these techniques, your catch-and-release skills will be more successful. More of your released fish will survive for another day.