Catch and Release sustains fish populations

Gone Fishin', Bruce Ajari

Each year I am encouraged by the increasing number of people that practice some form of catch and release fishing.

For us to maintain a valuable fishery in our region, this practice of catch and release angling is a must for future generations. Many anglers have grown to respect what we have in the way of fishing opportunities in our area, and have enough foresight to see that without some form of reduced taking of fish, the fishery could not survive.

I am seeing more and more “hardcore” anglers come to this realization.

More people are adhering to the philosophy of keeping only what can be used. There are plenty of opportunities for anglers to catch and keep fish that the California Department of Game plants into our roadside waters.

While many argue that planted fish are not too tasty, a wild trout that is kept has an impact on future generations of fish, your fishing future. As I said above, many anglers not accustomed to catch and release angling are practicing it these days. Unfortunately, while I am on the water I am seeing people release fish in ways that certainly do not allow the fish much chance for survival.

There is mortality in catch and release. The plain truth is that not all fish survive the “release.” Most fish will swim off even if released improperly and die in deeper water. The chances for increasing mortality is especially true when water temperatures rise in the summer.

While this number of fish that die is pretty small when practiced by someone that knows what they are doing, it can be very high if you do not release a fish properly.

Here is a checklist of things that can help you the next time you go to release a fish.

1. Land the fish as soon as you can. Sometimes you will break a fish off using this tactic or it will come off, but if you are practicing catch-and-release it should not be of great concern. We call it the “long distance or quick release” method depending on your proximity to the fish when it escapes.

2. As a general rule, the warmer the water, the quicker you must land the fish. Studies indicate that certain times of the year fish are more susceptible than other times.

3. Handle fish gently. A gently handled fish will not usually struggle an excessive amount.

Never toss the fish back into the water. After a long struggle, they will not have the ability to regain their equilibrium and could die.

Never put your fingers in their gills. Also never squeeze the fish as vital organs are easily damaged.

4. Make sure that your 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.

5. Try and keep the fish in the water if at all possible. Do not let it bang around on the 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.

6. Minimize the time for photo opportunities. Have them planned and set-up prior to landing the fish and you can spend a minimum of time taking the picture and begin releasing the fish immediately.

7. 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. Firm does not mean a death grip!

I have found that you can tell if a fish is close to being ready to be release by observing the two pectoral fins. These are the two fins in the front and on the sides. When they are straight out the fish has it equilibrium back and should be ready for a release momentarily.

8. Take your time reviving a fish. You owe it to them. You may want to get back to the “hot” fishing, but remember the fish you are holding is a link to continued good fishing. Spend that extra time and make sure the fish has a chance to survive. This is especially true during the hot summer months when water temperatures hover in the 70’s.

9. 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 that if you had worked to get the hook out.

A net can help you land a fish faster. If you can use one carefully you can increase the fish’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. If you do choose to use a net, use one with soft netting. The hard nylon cord is not good for catch-and-release fishing. Cotton, Dacron, or rubber are your best options. Rubber nets seem to be the best and are becoming more available in both boat and hand nets.

The use of barbless hooks also makes it easier to take the hook out of a fish. This generally decreases the handling time, which gives the fish a better chance for survival. You will be surprised at how well a barbless hook actually holds the fish. Putting a death grip on a fish and getting those triple hooks from a lure out of a fish with pliers and then releasing the fish is a sure way to kill them. Practice catch-and-release by following the above recommendations. You will be much more successful at it, and the fish you save will help conserve our valuable resource.

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