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Gone Fishin’: Knowing the practice of catch and release

Bruce Ajari, Sierra Sun

The holiday weekend brought a number of visitors to our community, making our local lakes and streams very busy.

What immediately comes to mind is that with so many anglers, without practicing catch and release our resources could be severely limited.

Each year around the beginning of the season, I run an article on how to properly release fish. This year is certainly no exception.

In waters such as the Truckee River in the wild trout section anglers have noticed that the fishing has improved dramatically with the six good winters that we have recently had. This year is a very dry one so the outlook is somewhat different, although for the river itself, the fact that water will have to be released out of Lake Tahoe to maintain downstream rates means that fishing in the river should remain pretty good.

Since the California Department of Fish and Game has not made any plants in the river in the past two years, the population of fish that are caught in the wild trout section are mostly a function of natural reproduction. Without catch and release, this fishery would certainly be in poor shape were it not for the practice of catch and release.

The special regulations limiting the take to two fish over 15 inches and the use of artificial lures only with barbless hooks seems to be the main reason that this section of the river has maintained good fishing. This coupled with the good flows that we have recently experienced has kept the Truckee River a very good fishery.

Each year when I am out angling I see anglers releasing fish improperly. If you are going to release one of these fish and want them to survive, you will need to take a certain amount of care in their release or they will not survive. Just because they appear to swim off does not mean that they will make it.

In areas where there is a high number of fly fishing anglers such as the Little Truckee River near the inlet at Boca each year, I often see a number of fish on the bottom of the river. Many of these fish deaths are most likely the result of improper handling.

Here are some basic guidelines for successfully releasing your 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 at 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 mucus that helps the fish fight disease.

5. Try and keep the fish in the water if at all possible. 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, or the boat or other such hazards.

6. 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 effect. 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 released 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 its equilibrium back and should be ready for a release momentarily.

7. Take your time reviving a fish. 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.

8. 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 the hook out.

I have noticed an increasing number of bait fishermen releasing their catch in recent years. There is an increasing understanding of how past practices of catch and keep will no longer work if you want to preserve anything for future generations in all segments of the sport fishing community nowadays. The above guidelines are for everyone to use.

Limit your catch and release those fish that you choose not to keep with care!

For this week’s fishing report, go to http://www.tahoe.com.


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