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Take Care while Releasing Your Fish

Gone Fishin', by Bruce Ajari

Catch-and-release is a term that has become very popular these days. With numbers of fishermen increasing on our favorite waters, it insures that there will be fish to catch in our children’s futures.

Even old timers agree that without practicing some form of catch-and-release, fishing will suffer. Tournament bass fishermen know that and are real advocates of releasing their catch. Tournaments stress catch and release and even penalize the angler if one of their fish does not survive.

Tournaments aside, the reason for it is simple. If everyone kept all the fish that they could in their favorite bodies of water, the fishing would not recover. If you doubt that, take a look at some of the old pictures of men holding up hundreds of fish and find out where they were caught. It will not surprise you to find out that the fishing in these waters is not like it was back then. We need to take care of the resource.

The practice of catch-and-release provides the means by which we can all still fish and limit our catch. Many areas have special regulations that offer a limited kill. This should be a goal of every fisherman or woman whether there are special regulations or not on a body of water.

Responsible angling means to only keep those fish that you will use. The term “limit your catch” best summarizes it. A fish that sits in your freezer and has to be thrown out because of freezer burn is a fish that will never have a chance to replenish the population in the water from which it was taken. The late Lee Wulff, noted angler, also coined a phrase that summarizes the catch-and-release philosophy: “A fish is too valuable to be caught only once.”

If you choose to practice catch-and-release 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 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. 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 affect. Do not let your fish go until it can forcefully escape from your firm grasp. Firm is not 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.

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. This is especially true during the hot summer months when water temperatures hover in the 70’s.

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.

Fish can sometimes be landed quicker if you have a net. If you can use one carefully you can increase the fish’s chance for survival by landing him without delay. Nets are not foolproof; fish do get tangled in the net and can damage themselves. If you do decide to use a net, use one with soft netting. The hard nylon cord is not real good for catch-and-release fishing.

Cotton, Dacron, or rubber are your best options.

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.

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 this valuable resource.

Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and avid outdoorsmen. Gone Fishin’ appears weekly in the Sierra Sun.


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