The Proper Way to Practice Catch and Release when Fishing

2016-03-19 - Written by: Chris

If you're a beginner to the world of fly fishing, you might not understand the best way to catch and release your fish. The fish's survival depends on your skill in catching the fish quickly as well as how you handle the fish while removing the hook.

Catch and release

Prepare the Hook

When you're practicing catch and release, you'll need to think about your hooks. Before heading to the water, you should remove the barbs from your current hooks, or purchase barbless hooks. To remove barbs from the hooks you already have, use pliers to pinch the barb flush with the hook. While it may be a bit more difficult for beginners to hook a fish without barbs, with enough practice it will become a more natural, easier experience.

Land the Fish Quickly

When fish are in the warmer water, which would be considered more than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the oxygen levels in the water declines. When the water is cooler, fish are less prone to stress and exhaustion. Taking too long to land a fish like a trout means you're stressing the fish and causing it to become exhausted. Check the drag, or see if the gear you have might be too light to land the fish you're trying to catch.

Equipment for Removing the Fish

While you should have many of these items in your tackle box, you want to be sure you're bringing a net, which you might not have with you. A landing net will stop the fish from thrashing in shallow water. You'll be able to remove it without causing it, even more, stress. Another item in your tackle box should be a pair of long-nose pliers with a snip to enable you to cut the line if needed.

Keep the Fish Where it Belongs

When the fish is yanked from the water, the chances of it being injured increase especially if it's held out of the water for a long time. You can remove the hook from the fish without pulling it from its natural habitat. It's always traumatic to remove a fish from the water, so if you can reach into the water and remove the hook, you'll go a long way towards keeping the fish alive. Keep the line taut and give the hook a little flick to remove it. When fly fishing, the hook is usually at the edge of the mouth, which makes removal easier.

Handle the Fish

There are times when you need to remove the fish from the water. If the fish has swallowed the hook, or you can't seem to remove the hook easily, you'll need to handle the fish to remove it. Before handling the fish, make sure your hands are wet. You don't want to remove the mucus film that protects the fish. The mucus reduces the risk of bacterial infection.

Remove the Hook

Even when you take precautions like wetting your hands, the fish will be traumatized while out of the water. This is when you'll need those needle-nose pliers. Hold the fish gently while using the pliers to remove the hook. If it's embedded in the fish, you might have to cut the hook to remove the lure, which will make it easier to remove. You should use whatever method is the quickest to get the fish back in the water.

A Swallowed Hook

In some cases, the hook is so far down that you won't be able to remove it from the fish. When this happens, you'll have to cut the line and leave the hook inside the fish. Surprisingly, fish can live with a deeply-embedded hook, and after time, it will actually dissolve due to the strength of their saliva.

Safe Fish Handling

Along with keeping your hands wet, there are a few more ways to handle the fish to ensure that when you release it the fish will survive. Never handle the fish's gills by holding your fingers inside them. The gills are extremely sensitive. You should hold the fish by the mouth or tail. Holding the fish upside down while removing the hook can actually pacify the fish making it easier to remove the hook.

Reintroduce the Fish to Water

Never toss the fish back into the water. That can be one of the most traumatizing parts of catching the fish. After removing the hook, place the fish underwater while still holding it, so the fish can be acclimated. You might have to hold it for a few minutes before it takes off on its own steam. In other cases, it might buck out of your hands immediately. It depends on how shocked and stressed the fish is.

Bleeding Fish

If you caused the fish to bleed, you've reduced its chances of survival. If you're in a place where you're allowed to keep the fish, a bleeding fish should be kept. It also means that you'll have to improve your technique next time you're practicing catch and release.

When you practice catch and release, you're giving it a chance to reproduce. That fishing spot will have more fish in the future for you to catch.