No one wants to unintentionally kill a fish. If we plan to eat the fish, it gets a “head thunk” and goes into a creel or ice chest. Fish can also be released and caught another day.

Correct Catch and Release techniques are discussed, debated, and often disregarded. Three fishermen will give you 4 opinions. Just because a fish swims away does not mean that it will survive.

Cell phones may have become one of the reasons even more fish die. On one trout fishing trip to the Yellow Breeches Creek in Pennsylvania, I met an angler with a selfie stick. He had just caught a small brown trout and was taking dozens of pictures with him and the fish. He would hold the fish in the water, throw the fish in the air, and tried every pose that he could think of. When I questioned what he was doing, he told me “Oh I never keep any trout. I only Catch and Release!”

Grip and Grab has often been the way to hold a fish. Dragging or booting the fish onto the shore covers them with dirt and debris. Allowing them to struggle in a net or flop around the deck is also a death sentence.

One of the great things about Catch and Release is that you don’t have to kill the fish. You can enjoy fishing, catching, and celebrating the day without a fatal outcome. This is not an option when hunting unless you hunt with a camera.

Even with the best Catch and Release techniques, some fish will die. Many fishermen do not choose to kill the fish, they simply do not know how to prevent heir demise. Science suggests 5-15% of fish released may die. This varies based on temperature and type of lures, flies, hook, or bait used.

Here are some points to Catch and Release Right!

               Sharpen Your Hooks! 

Studies show that a sharp hook will catch more fish and are more easily removed. Barbed hooks do not make a huge difference.The mouths of most fish are mainly cartilage. This fingernail like material has no nerves and is hard to penetrate. A sharp barbed hook makes a larger and cleaner hole for the hook to be extracted.

               If the fish is gut hooked, cut the line!

               If the hook or fly is deep in the guts of the fish, cut the line near the fished mouth. They will pass or dissolve the hooks in a few days. Even a hook left in the eye will eventually rust and dissolve. Their stomach acids are strong enough to do this job. A bled fish is a dead fish!

               Use a proper net! 

 Nets vary in size and material. A wider net is easier to fit the fish into. The best net is made of wide gapped fabric. A tight net mesh will wipe the protective mucous off the fish’s body. Once this protective layer is gone, bacteria, parasites, and disease will attack the fish. The key is to WET the NET before touching the fish. Nylon, rubber, and poly nets of the proper fabric size will make for a safe and quick release. They need to be attached to your vest or readily available.

               Keep the fish wet!

               Water saves fish lives. Once out of the water, the fish begins to suffocate and dehydrate. How long can you hold your breath? A wet fish stays cooler, calmer, and protected. Now deal with the hook and get ready for the release.

               Hold the fish properly!

               Grip and Grab means certain death. The air bladder of a fish is fragile. If squeezed, it will burst. Hanging the fish by the mouth can damage the vertebrae. Putting your fingers into the gills and under the gill plate will damage them. Any bleeding means almost certain death. When squeezed, the heartrate, blood pressure, and stress increases. These are a lethal end.

Plan pictures ahead of time!

Fishermen love to show off their success. Have your plan made ahead of time. You know where your phone is and imagine the angle you desire. Close is often better than far. Mix up your angles, backgrounds, and themes. If you need some time to get the picture ready, prepare your selfie stick, comb your hair, change your hat, or put people in position, keep the fish calm in the wet net. Gently wait for everything to be ready. Getting into the water, along a shore, helps. Lift the fish by the tails and just in front of the pectoral fins. Throwing the fish around and making faked action shots adds more stress. The actual photos can now take just a few moments. Say cheese and release gently please!

Use Forceps!

Shoving your fat fingers down the fish’s throat does damage and stresses out the fish. Use FORCEPS! Attach the forceps to your shirt, vest, or coat where they are always available. Grab the bend of the hook and unstick the hook. Avoid causing any bleeding. Use forceps in the length needed for the species you are targeting.

No fish towels or rags!

These will wipe away the fish’s natural protection. Imagine removing your skin. Mucous keeps bacteria, disease, and parasites off the fish’s body. Dirt, gravel, grass, and debris will also remove the mucous when the fish is beached or flopped on the shore or deck. Use a towel after dealing with the fish.

Resuscitate before release!

The longer the battle, the longer the recovery. Hold the fish in the water and work it back and forth. Allow fresh water to pass through their gills. Keep the fish in the wet net as you do this and face the fish into a tide or current. Holding one hand around the base of a fish’s tail is helpful. When they can easily pull free, the release is complete.

Circle Hooks save lives!

The correct size Circle Hook is hard for a fish to swallow. This means more hook ups in the mouth and lips and less damage to the gills and internals. This is especially important when fishing in areas with slot limits. Match the hook size to the fish species, and bait, that you are using. Many areas now require Circle hooks when live lining or fishing baits.

Fight the fish quickly!

The longer you fight the fish, the less likely it will survive a release. Lactic acid will build up in the muscle of the fish and remain for a long time. This will also impact the fish’s flavor if you plan to eat them. Fish become dormant and may not feed. Eventually they weaken and become vulnerable to predators or disease. Fight the fish aggressively! Use a proper balanced and matched rod and reel. The reel needs an excellent drag loaded with quality line.

Swap out Treble hooks!

Lures, spinners, and crank baits work better, get snagged less, and will catch more fish with a slightly larger and sharp single hook. Use the split ring attachment to change the hooks. A rear hook on a popper or surface plug is often enough. Now you have only one hook to take out of the fish. A single hook is also less likely to hook the fisherman.

Avoid Stainless Steel hooks.

These hooks will not rust or break down from a fish’s stomach digestive acids. If you plan to keep the fish, a stainless hook is durable, stays sharp, and is efficient. For Catch and Release it may be a released fish death wish.

Gaffs are for Catch and Keep only.

Catch and Release of gaffed fish is a unlikely. Once you slam a sharp gaff into the body of a fish, the blood pressure immediately drops, and the fish begins to go into shock. If the next stop for the fish is the cooler, then fine. Even a lip or mouth/gill gaff hook up is damaging. The vertebrae, gills, eyes, and are all vulnerable to a fatal wound.

Guides, Outfitters, Charter Captains and experienced anglers need to be masters of the Catch and Release skills. They have a responsibility to protect and manage the fishery correctly. After all, these fish are their lively hood. Without the fish, their clients are just going for a boat ride. Educating their clients is an important part of their job and what the clients need to learn.

All anglers must become Stewards of our sports if we hope to have them in the future. “The most important things that we learn in our lives are the things we learn after we already know everything!”

Don’t even get me started about kissing a fish!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, Catch and Release him at ble 4 Acce