Bruce Ajari: Catch-and-release angling more important than ever for future generations

Bruce Ajari
Gone Fishin'

Every year I publish a reminder for anglers who are new to the sport and need to know the proper way to release a fish they do not want to keep. Catch-and-release fishing has gained tremendous popularity due primarily to fishing shows.

Even the most veteran anglers are beginning to realize that catch-and-release needs to be practiced. I am certainly not going to tell a person not to keep any fish.

The California Department of Fish and Game is severely restricted from planting trout into most of our roadside waters for the next couple of years. This is due to a lawsuit that requires Fish and Game to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement on the fish to ensure that they are not threatening indigenous species.

Catch-and-release should be practiced wherever the fishing pressure warrants it. This year you should also be limiting your catch in waters that historically received trout plants, such as Boca, Donner, Prosser and the non-special regulation waters of the Truckee River and Little Truckee River. The only water to be planted locally this year will be Stampede Reservoir.

If the water is a popular one, then it makes sense to limit your catch. If traveling in the backcountry, you may come across a lake where the fish are obviously overpopulating a lake due to its remoteness.

Lakes where brook trout are present can be great examples, evidenced by stunted fish with large heads and skinny bodies. Taking a limit of fish for dinner here would certainly be encouraged.

Should you want to try catch-and-release fishing, you should know the proper technique to help ensure the fishand#8217;s survival. An improper release could harm the fish and cause it to die. While it may swim off, chances are pretty good that it will die if released improperly.

The use of barbless hooks will also aid in releasing the fish. A barbless hook is much easier to remove than ones with barbs. Have you ever had difficulty removing a treble hook from the fish?

Here are the key components of releasing a fish so that it has the best chance for survival:

and#8226; Land the fish as soon as you can. Sometimes you will break a fish off or it will pull free using this tactic, but if you are practicing catch-and-release, it should be of great concern.

and#8226; As a general rule, the warmer the water, the quicker you must land the fish. Studies show that fish are more susceptible to dying when the water gets too warm to support high levels of oxygen.

and#8226; Handle fish gently. A gently handled fish will not usually struggle an excessive amount. Never toss the fish back into the water. If you do this they will not have the ability to regain their equilibrium, and they will most likely die. Never put your fingers into their gills.

and#8226; Make sure that you hands are wet prior to handling the fish. Handling a fish with dry hands can remove the protective mucous that helps the fish fight disease.

Try and keep the fish in the water if at all possible. Do not let it bang around on shore. The water will help support the weight of its body so that none of its internal organs are damaged. Also, you will be less likely to drop the fish on the ground, rock, the boat or other hazards.

and#8226; Minimize the time for photo opportunities. Have them planned and set up prior to landing the fish. If you do this, you will be able to get a quick picture and begin reviving the fish immediately.

and#8226; Cradle the fish gently in calm, silt-free water, preferably about waist deep. Gently support the fish from underneath, just behind the head, and grasp the base of the tail firmly with your other hand. You can gently move the fish back and forth in the water to get oxygen into its system. If you are in a river, facing the fish upstream into a very slight current will have the same affect. Do not let your fish go until it can forcefully escape from your firm grasp.

and#8226; Take your time reviving a fish, especially during the hot summer months when the water temperatures hover in the 70s. You owe it to them. You may want to get back to fishing, but remember the fish you are holding could mean the future of the fishery.

and#8226; If the fish is hooked too deeply, cut the line off as close to the fish that you can. The hook will rust out shortly, and the fish will have a much better chance for survival than if you had worked to get it out.

and#8226; A net can also help land a fish faster. If you can use one carefully, you can increase the fishand#8217;s chance for survival by landing him without delay. Nets are not fool proof. Fish do get tangled in the net and can damage themselves. Use one with soft netting. The hard nylon cord is not good for catch-and-release angling. Cotton, Dacron or rubber mesh are you best options when selecting a net.

and#8212; Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.

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