With warm spring weather finally upon us, the thoughts of grabbing our fishing poles and heading to our favorite secret holes are here. Sometimes we fish for our dinner, and sometimes we fish to catch and release. Knowing how to properly release fish that you are not going to keep is very important. Taking the proper steps will help them to live another day.
To give released fish the best chance of survival, I recommend the following:
- Touch the fish as little as possible.
- Keep the fish in water. The fish can be injured by flopping on the bottom of the boat or on the shore.
- Wet your hands. Wet anything that will come in contact with the fish so that you don’t remove their protective slime coating.
- Remove the hooks quickly. Hemostats or long-nosed pliers are easier, safer and less damaging to the fish than your fingers. If the fish swallows the hook you could either cut the line with clippers right above the hook and leave the hook in the fish. Or if it’s a lure and you have wire cutters, you could cut the books free from the lure.
- Don’t touch the gills. Gills are very sensitive and are easily damaged. Always hold the fish gently by cradling near the head or tail or mid-section. Bass can be safely handled by holding the lower jaw, thumb in the mouth and forefinger under the chin. Fish that are bleeding from the mouth and gills don’t have a good chance of surviving so they should be kept. If you find that more of your fish are bleeding, keep practicing these releasing techniques.
- If using a net, use a knotless net or a fine mesh one. They aid in reducing the time to release the fish and keep it from thrashing against the boat or on shore.
- Use barbless hooks. They remove much easier than barbed hooks and do less damage. Pinching down the barbs with needle-nose pliers will make them barbless.
- Hold the fish upright underwater after you’ve removed the hooks and let it swim away on its own.
If you’re keeping fish, it’s a good idea to chill them on ice for better flavor!