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Q & A
Catch and Release Mortality
Question
I fish almost exclusively catch and release. I try to be very careful and not injure any fish that I catch, but once in a while a fish will take a hook very deep. I've always been told that the best thing to do is to clip the line as far down as possible and that eventually the hook will rust out without harming the fish. I wonder though if that really is the right thing to do. Can a fish actually live if it has a hook swallowed deeply?
Answer
A much higher percentage of fish that are hooked deeply survive when the hook is left in and the line cut compared to those where a deep hook is removed. In the few scientific studies where the fate of hooks that were left in fish released by anglers were tracked, it has been learned that hooks were eventually shed by the fish or surrounded by new tissue. One study found that rainbow trout shed hooks in about 40 days. The study of 200 hundred trout released without removal of hooks 66 percent survived, of the 200 where the hook was removed 11.5 percent survived.

In a 1989 study of smallmouth bass, study mortality ranged between 32.5 and 47.3 percent (depending upon hook size) for hooks that were immediately removed, whereas mortality for hooks that were not removed was 4.2 percent. In the case of juvenile smallmouth bass, the study found that upon dissection, some hooks were lodged in internal organs but that new tissue surrounded the hooks. The study further noted that dissected hooks exhibited minimal corrosion after 20 days.

You are wise to cut the line and leave the hook in, the fish will likely survive to be caught another day.

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How to release a fish
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