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What are the most important things to keep in mind when practicing catch and release?

Brian Chan

  1.  Remember the fish live in a gravity-free environment so minimize the time, if any, that the fish spends out of the water.
  2. If you are going to take a picture of a fish prior to releasing it then follow the 3 second rule, maximum of 3 seconds out of the water. So, have your camera and photographer ready for the shot and then quickly hold the fish up, click the shutter and back into the water. You can get some great shots of fish while supporting them in the water so they never leave it.
  3. Handle live fish properly, support the fish with one hand behind the pelvic fins and your other hand around the wrist or caudal peduncle (tail of the fish) or support fish with both hands, palms up and cradle the fish under the pelvic fins (just behind the head) and ahead of     the tail or caudal fin. Never hold a live fish with fingers through the gill rakers.
  4. Reduce fish scale loss, damage to protective slime layer by using a soft, small meshed landing net bag.  Get the net bag wet before landing the fish.

Phil Rowley

The welfare of the fish is paramount.  Use barbless hooks to reduce handling and damaging the fish’s mouth. Try to use the heaviest tippet possible for the conditions so you can play the fish quickly and efficiently.  If possible use a wooden catch and release net.  These nets float so you can use both hands free to handle the fish if you have to.  Try not to touch the fish at all.  Remove the hook and if the fish is strong and lively just turn the net inside out to release it.  If you have to handle the fish never hold it vertically.  Wet your hands to avoid removing the fish’s protective slime. Hold the fish horizontally by the tail and support its belly just behind the pectoral fins.  Never remove the fish from the water for long periods of time, less than 10 seconds is ideal.  Fish flopping around in the boat is a definite no no. When you release the fish continue holding it by the tail and supporting its belly as you place it in the water.  Allow the fish to rest and recover in the water before letting it swim off.  I like it to fight me a couple of times before I let go to confirm it is strong enough to swim and be hopefully caught another day.

Tom Johannesen

First off always use barbless hooks and more importantly don’t over play the fish. Using light gear to enhance the battle is very hard on fish as they fight to a point in which they may not recover once released. Equally as important, keep the fish in the water as much as possible. Only take them out for a quick photo and then get them back in the water.

Aaron Goodis

For me the most important thing to keep in mind when practicing catch and release angling is, “Fish first, every time!” What I mean by this is make sure the fish is released unharmed and alive! Yes, Alive!

  • Leave the fish in the water at all times.
  • Avoid gripping this fish too firmly and never by the gills.
  • Do not use a glove of any kind, bare wet hands are the best in order to not remove protective slime.
  • Point the nose into the current to help the fish breathe.
  • If taking a picture be very quick and leave the fish cradled at or just under water level and be fast, one chance.
  • Avoid rocks and sand.
  • Play fish fast in order to not tire them out too much.
  • Think fish first, a healthy fish swims away with power and strength!

Garry Elgear

Leave the fish in the water and the less handling the better.
Fish with barbless hooks and use hemostats to release the fish.
Catch and release nets: use them.

Dave Steele

A responsible angler intent on releasing his/her catch will make several conscious decisions long before a fish comes to hand.

Firstly, the power or weight of the tackle used should be an appropriate match for the species targeted. In a perfect world, when a fish is hooked the action of the rod and strength of the line should serve a dual purpose by allowing the fisher to both enjoy the battle and land their soon to be released catch in a timely fashion. If a hooked fish is destined for release it is imperative that the angler’s equipment does not lead to the unnecessary stress that comes from overplaying. In my opinion, anglers participating in high volume catch and release fisheries should avoid the use of super ultra-light tackle.

When the actual unbuttoning (hook removal) is performed it should always be done in the water, at rivers edge when the geography allows it and should be completed when the fish is still in several inches of water. When brought to the side of your boat it should be performed on the outside of the vessel. With respect to both the aforementioned scenarios, the tools of necessity would be a set of waders and a net constructed with knotless mesh.

At the end of a fight, steelhead and some species of salmon have a tendency to roll on the line. This manoeuvre often leads to gill damage when the tightly stretched monofilament slips under the gill plates and makes contact with the gill filaments. When fish engage in this late fight behaviour, keeping one’s fishing line in a vertical position (straight up and down) can dramatically reduce a fish’s ability to wrap itself in leader material. A fish played in such a fashion can spin freely on the end of the line thus minimizing gill damage. Once released, the likelihood of survival is much greater when a fish finds all that it needs to breathe in a non-compromised condition.

When catch and release becomes regularly practiced the use of barbless hooks is a must, even when local regulations don’t require their use. When commitments like the one just described are adopted by angler’s focused on enjoying multiple hook-ups, the health and well being of the fishery is given the priority it deserves. Losing a number of fish hooked is simply the price you pay to certify that unnecessary hook damage is eliminated. Truth be known, a barbless hook is rarely the culprit when a fish is lost. Regardless of a hooks barb status when it has lodged itself deep in a delicate area it’s probably best to sever the line and continue with a release procedure than attempt to dig it out.

When aware fishers are outfitted with the proper tools there is little doubt that fish will come to hand. This, the actual period of handling, should be completed with wetted bare un-gloved hands. Stillwater captures should be carefully held with both hands and slowly moved back and forth through the water. When enough water passes over the gills the subject will begin to strengthen and regain enough energy to kick free. I find it’s in the best interest of the fish to send it on its way after its second or third attempt to free itself from the hold. Fish released in moving water should be held level with their heads pointing upstream. River and stream releases require slightly more patience as there’s little room for error. If a fish exhausted from battle isn’t allowed to fully recover, prematurely releasing it into a swift current will likely sentence it to death. Take your time, take responsibility.

When first initiated Catch and Release was largely seen as a regulatory tool, its introduction associated with species in jeopardy, critically low run levels, genetic preservation or simply the government’s label for rationalizing watershed abandonment. (Yes, that was a dig.) In today’s world C&R is accepted, practiced and associated more with sustainability than anything else. Funnily enough, there’s one little aspect of the capture that’s appreciated little change from the period when kill fisheries prevailed to the present. I am of course referring to angler validation, in a number of fisheries the corpse has simply been replaced by the photo. Unfortunately, the irresponsible procurement of an image of record can erase all the good intentions of a well meaning practitioner of Catch and Release. A photo should only be an option if the well being of the fish is first and foremost on the anglers mind. Give yourself an out of water operating time of 3 seconds: delicately cradle the fish in the water, lift it into frame and snap a photo. When performed to perfection you’ll generate one of those wonderful images that capture water dripping from the model. If you’re unable to procure a photo within the guidelines described, give the vanity a rest and pass on taking the picture.
The responsible practice of Catch and Release only works when a fish first philosophy is adhered to.

Trevor Shpeley

I think the most important thing for any fisherman to realize when they are practicing catch and release is to remember that even catch and release is not a zero impact pursuit. No matter how carefully you release the fish there is going to be a mortality rate and so anything we can do to reduce the number of fish we inadvertently kill, the better off the resource will be.

Minimize the amount of time you play the fish and use rods and line that are heavy enough to bring the fish in quickly. Make sure the barbs on your hooks are well flattened and use a net with a squared-off bottom that is made of a special C&R mesh. If you can avoid it, do not lift the fish out of the water at all and if you are going to take a picture, consider taking it while the fish is still in the net, in the water. Carefully revive the fish by gently rocking it back and forth in the water while holding it by the tail until the fish swims away.

When throat pumping a fish, make sure the fish is large enough to avoid damage from the throat pump. Do not try to pump a small fish. Make one attempt and one attempt only. If you don’t get anything, well you know what you caught that one on right?

It is just a fact that not every fish we release is going to survive but by being mindful and being aware of the consequences of our actions we can minimize the harm we do as we pursue our favorite sport.

Tom Johannesen

First off always use barbless hooks and more importantly don’t over play the fish. Using light gear to enhance the battle is very hard on fish as they fight to a point in which they may not recover once released. Equally as important, keep the fish in the water as much as possible. Only take them out for a quick photo and then get them back in the water.

Adrian Clarke

According to our recent research on catch and release for rainbow trout in small lakes fisheries, mortality can be quite high particularly as water temperatures increase. Water temperature is the key factor that results in high mortality, particularly when lake temperatures exceed 15 degrees.

There are three other key factors that stood out in the catch and release mortality project: stress due to exhaustion, air exposure, and hook removal. There are some easy ways to minimize mortality according to our results:

  1. Do not over exhaust your fish after it has been hooked. To prevent this you can size your rod and leader to the size of fish you expect to catch in a particular lake.
  2. Limit the amount of time a fish is exposed to air. If possible keep the fish in a catch and release net suspended in the water while unhooking it. If you want a picture do it quickly.
  3. Don’t try to remove a hook that is deep in the throat. The chance of survival is much higher if you cut the line as close to the hook as possible.

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