Catch And Release Best Practices
For many anglers catch & release fishing is the norm, rather than the exception. Some practice it as a means of conserving their favorite species and insuring opportunities will exist for future generations. Others simply have no desire to harvest the fish they catch. Regardless of the motivation successful catch & release requires long term survival of the fish following the release.
Simply releasing a fish does not guarantee future survival. If the fish is not handled properly from the time of being hook to the time of final release the odds are against successful survival, even of the fish initially swims and otherwise appears health. By following some simple best practices the conservation minded angler can greatly increase the health of the fish at the time of release.
- Bait – numerous studies have confirmed that fish caught on live bait experience a high mortality rate. This is generally due to deeper, more injurious hooking caused by the bait being more readily swallowed. These deep hooking can also be difficult to remove, which usually results in greater level of injury.
- Landing – One of the greatest dangers to the health of any fish it the increased stress experienced during the time it takes you to land it. This stress can actually tire the fish to the point that it simply dies of exhaustion. Once a fish is successfully hooked you should land it as quickly as possible, handle it as little as possible and release it as soon as possible. One possible exception to this rule would be when fishing in extremely deep water. Some species may experience dangerous bloating when forced to the surface too quickly, a condition with is often fatal. In this case a slow steady retrieval would be less stressful than a quick trip from the bottom.
- Hook removal – hooks should be removed quickly and with as little injury as possible. Ideally the hook will be set with in the mouth itself and removed with the assistance of forceps. However, if the hook if set nears the gills or deep within the throat removal may actually cause more damage than simply snipping the line and allowing the hook to dislodge itself over time.
- Conditions – a final factor which greatly influence survival rates it the water conditions, specifically when it comes to temperatures. For many fresh water species, including trout or bass, stress levels are magnified when water temperatures rise above 77 degrees. When fishing during warmer weather anglers wishing to practice catch & release should also practice extreme care to reduce the other stressors mentioned above. If fish are housed in a live well for any period of time, such as during a tournament, it is vital that the temperature difference between the live well and waterway not exceed 10 degrees.
Good luck & good fishing!