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Catch & Release
How to Release Fish
Hooked fishEvery angler should expect and be prepared to release some portion of his catch. Catch and release has become a popular and preferred method of angling. The number of fish that survive depends on several factors, including the length of the fight, where the fish is hooked, water temperature, and how the fish is handled and released. To give fish released the best chance for survival, the following guidelines are recommended.
  1. Use barbless hooks
    Barbless hooks can facilitate the quick removal of the hook from a fish and also reduce the risk of hooking injuries to the angler. Pinching down the barb with needle-nose pliers works.

  2. Play fish quickly
    Try to land your fish as quickly as possible and don’t play the fish to exhaustion. This is particularly important when fishing for trout in periods of warmer water temperatures (greater than 70 degrees F), but it is also true for coolwater and warmwater species, when water temperatures are relatively high (greater than 80 degrees F). Keep in mind that as water temperatures warm, dissolved oxygen levels in the water decline. Therefore, fish are subject to stress and exhaustion in a much shorter period of time at 70 degrees compared to 55-degree water temperatures. If it takes you a long time to land fish, your drag may be set too loosely or your gear may be too light for the fish you are catching.

  3. Use a landing net
    The use of a fine-mesh landing net may aid in reducing the amount of time required to land a fish and keep it from thrashing about in shallow water or on the shore.

  4. Keep the fish in the water
    The chance of a fish being injured increases the longer it is held out of water. It is preferable to remove the hook from a fish you intend to release without taking it out of the water, or at least minimize the amount of time a fish is held out of water.

  5. Wet your hands
    Wet your hands, your net, and other materials that may come in contact with the fish. This reduces the removal of the mucus on the fish and lessens the possibility of bacterial infection.

  6. Hold the fish upside down while removing the hook
    This can often pacify the fish and reduce handling time.

  7. Removing a hookRemove hooks quickly
    Hemostats or long-nose pliers are essential tools for quickly removing hooks. Cutting hooks from a lure may facilitate lure removal in some cases; therefore, wire cutters are a valuable addition to an angler’s hook removal arsenal.

  8. Cut the line
    When it is not possible to remove the hook without harming the fish, cut the line. Only a small piece of line should be left on the hook to ease passage through the digestive system. Research has documented that cutting the line can greatly increase the survival of deeply hooked fish.

  9. Don’t touch the gills
    Do not handle fish by placing your fingers in the gill slits. Fish gill filaments are very sensitive and can easily be injured. Fish should be handled by cradling the fish near the head and tail if possible, or by gently holding the fish near the mid-section. Bass can be safely handled by holding the lower jaw, thumb in the mouth and forefinger under the chin.

  10. Reviving and releasing a fishHold the fish upright underwater after hook removal and allow it to swim away under its own power
    If necessary, hold the fish out of the current until it revives.

  11. Fish that are bleeding from the mouth or gills due to hook removal and handling indicate your catch and release techniques need to improve
    Survival is reduced significantly when damage resulting in bleeding occurs; if regulations allow, fish that are bleeding are the ones that you should consider keeping.
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SMART Angler's Notebook -- Put 'em Back Alive
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