Catch and release fishing is gaining in popularity, which is good news for our fisheries. Catch and release angling is one of the most important tools that recreational anglers can use to preserve and manage a fishery.
If you intend to release the fish that you catch, there are important steps you can take to improve your chances of releasing a fish that will live another day.
Landing the Fish. Over-exertion/exhaustion will kill many of the fish you release, so use common sense. Using extremely light tackle will prolong the fight and delay the landing of your catch, and in certain conditions it can result in death to the fish. The first key to proper release is to play the fish quickly.
Landing the fish can also cause physical stress to the fish. A big nylon net with large-string netting can become caught in the gills of a fish and cause serious physical damage. This damage often results in a dead fish. Use a catch and release net made of a fine cotton mesh. Using it will vastly improve the chances of survival for the fish.
Not using a net at all is the altogether best choice as long as you keep the fish in the water. Many anglers lift the fish out of the water. This action simply deprives the fish of water and oxygen. A fish can only breath when it is in the water. The less time out of the water for the fish, the better. Ideally the fish should never leave the water. If you want to photograph your catch, have the camera ready and minimize the time that the fish is out of the water.
Releasing the Fish. Use care and be gentle when touching a fish. Don't squeeze the fish to get a good grip, you'll traumatize the fish by crushing its internal organs and by removing its protective slime coating. This outer slime coating prevents disease and is essential for the fish's health.
Always keep your fingers out of the fish's mouth and gills, and use needle-nose pliers to remove embedded hooks. Turning a fish upside down sometimes calms it and makes for an easier release.
Fish with barbless hooks or with crushed barbs whenever possible. There are three obvious advantages to using barbless hooks:
1. If you hook yourself at all, the hook will come out without you having to visit the emergency room.
2. You will hook your fish easier because a barbless hook penetrates a fish's mouth better than a barbed hook.
3. Barbless hooks are much easier to remove from a fish's mouth, so you release the fish quicker.
If the fish swallows your hook, cut the line as close to the mouth as possible without causing injury to the fish. The hook will dissolve quickly, provided you are not using stainless steel hooks. If you're really serious about catch and release, don't use stainless steel hooks unless they give a real advantage for your type of fishing.
Finally, you will need to release the fish. While gently holding the fish's tail and supporting its underbelly, guide it through the water to exercise its gills. Face the fish into the current so that it can control it's breathing. The fish will usually swim away when it is ready.