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Study after study has shown that the majority of fish species can survive being caught and released if they are released properly. With most states now having laws requiring you to catch and release during some time of the year there is a strong need to learn to release your catch in a way that will insure its greatest chance of survival.
Here are some tips to help improve your fish’s chance of survival once released back into the water.
Land your fish quickly if possible
The longer you fight the fish, the more energy the fish will use and will lesson his chance of survival. Also a weak and stressed fish is more vulnerable to predators and is also less able to fight off infection.
There is one exception to this and that is when you are fishing in very deep water. A fish caught in deep water needs time to adjust to the pressure changes as he is being reeled up to the boat or his air bladder will expand and he will not be able to swim back down to the deeper water. If the bladder does expand, puncture a small hole with a 12-gauge hypodermic needle if possible to release the air out of the bladder. If a needle is not available use the tip of a clean ice pick. Some light massaging might be helpful to get the air out of the bladder. Just remember to keep the hole as small as possible, the air will go out quickly and the hole will heal in a short time.
If you are using treble hooks, try removing some of the hooks so the damage to the fish is less. You can cut off one or two of the hooks or some anglers take the treble off and replace it with a single hook. Also try using circle hooks if you are using live bait. Just remember to not “set the hook” as much as you would with other hooks. When you get a bite just lift the rod tip to tighten the line up and start reeling, the hook will set itself in the corner of the fish’s mouth…usually.
Set your hook quickly
This reduces the chances of the fish swallowing the bait and then needing the fisherman to perform “minor surgery” to get the hook out. If you do get a fish that is “gut hooked” try to use a hook removal device like needle nose pliers or hemostats to help with the job. If it appears that you will have to do more harm that good to get the hook out just cut the line off as close to the hook as you can and hope for the best. In most instances the hook will work itself out and even if it doesn’t the fish will have a better chance of living with the hook than if damage was done to his internal organs during the hook removal process.
Try to reduce the handling of the fish
Leave the fish in the water as much as possible during the release phase. Use a hook removal tool if possible to reduce handling and don’t let the fish thrash around and injure it self or someone else. If you must handle the fish try to use a wet towel or glove and return the fish to the water as soon as possible.
After the fish is unhooked you don’t want to release him till he is strong enough to swim own his own. Hold the fish gently by its tail under water facing into the current. Move the fish gently back in forth till he can swim away on his own.
Thanks for reading!
Please practice catch and release whenever possible and remember the large fish don’t taste any better than smaller ones. Take a picture and let the big ones go back to catch again later.