I’m not going to start a debate about the ethics of catch and release vs. keeping fish. Certain segments of the fishing community look down on other anglers who catch fish to consume. Anyone who lawfully takes a fish or game animal for consumption is fine with me. I also can respect and appreciate the community of bass fishermen and fly fishers who never keep trout or bass and instead want to leave the resource in the water to catch again another day.
All that being said, whichever side of the aisle you find yourself on, there are going to be times when you need to release a fish you’ve caught. Perhaps it’s under the legal size for possession or maybe you caught a walleye but have reached your limit for the day. When the time comes to release the fish it is critically important to the resource that we release the fish in a way that it has the best possible chance of survival.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure when you release a fish it has the best chance of survival:
- Consider using barbless hooks. If you are out fishing with the express purpose of releasing what you catch you can file down the barb or flatten it with a pair of pliers. This ensures that the hook will not snag when you go to remove it.
- Land the fish as quickly as possible. The less you fight it the less the chances the fish will suffer from exhaustion. Use a rubber net when the fish is close.
- Only handle the fish with wet hands. This ensures that your hands will not rub off the protective mucous coating on the fishes skin.
- Fish close to the water. While fishing from bridges seems like fun it makes it difficult to quickly and safely release a fish back into the water.
- Don’t keep the fish out of the water any longer than is necessary. If you want to get a picture do it quickly and close to the water.
- When releasing the fish make sure it has regained its strength and can swim upright before releasing it. Gently hold the fish in the water with its mouth pointed upstream before releasing it.
Like I said, if you are going to keep a fish to feed yourself or your family and friends—more power to you. But, if you are fishing catch and release or catch a fish you cannot keep, you have a responsibility to our natural resources to give it the best chance of survival. Take a few simple steps to ensure that the trophy fish lives on to spawn and be caught again.