Proper Catch and Release Techniques

At FishVault, we believe in education and conservation when it comes to teaching the next generation about fishing etiquette. One topic that often comes to mind is catch and release. Catch and release is a common practice among fishermen. However, if not practiced correctly, the mortality rate for fish can be extremely high. This means if you catch and release 25 fish in a day poorly, you're doing more harm than the angler who is keeping his limit of fish for the day. This is alarming for most catch and release fishermen as it is a part of their ethical code to "let them go so they can grow".

Catch and release is a great conservation strategy, but simply letting a fish go does not guarantee it will live. The actions you take before, during, and after you land a fish can improve its chances of survival, keep fish stocks healthy, and keep fishermen fishing.

Two Common Myths of Catch and Release

Let's go over a few quick myths of catch and release so we don't make the mistake of thinking we did a good job, but likely sent the fish off to his death.

MYTH 1 – You Have to Remove the Hook

Hook removal is one of the main factors in whether a fish will live or die. A slightly hooked fish typically recovers very quickly from a hook removal (remember to use barbless hooks) compared to a deeply hooked fish that swallowed the hook. When the later happens, the best practice is to cut the line as close to the hook as possible and leave the hook in place. Fish stand a much higher chance of survival in this instance and the hook will eventually deteriorate in the water. In a recent study by Science Direct, 44% of Bluegills died 48 hours after a deeply set or swallowed hook was removed. Only 3% died from a properly cut line.

MYTH 2 – The Fish Swam Off, So He's Ok

This is simply WRONG. Over 95% of fish mortality happens after the fish swims off. We have all seen fish released by people upstream only to see the fish belly up 2 hours later downstream on the river bottom. This is why we need to practice the best technique in catch and release every time, because once we let go of that fish, if we didn't do our job right, the chances of survival are thin.

What Can I Do?

Choose the Right Gear

  1. Use circle hooks, barbless hooks, or hooks with crimped barbs. These can increase survival rates and make hook removal easier. Some fisheries require the use of circle hooks, so be sure you know the rules and regulations before you hit the water.
  2. Use non-stainless steel hooks. These will corrode and fall out over time if a fish or other wildlife is accidentally hooked and escapes before they can be dehooked.
  3. Use tackle strong enough to quickly land the fish you're targeting.
  4. Use a wet, soft knotless mesh or a rubber landing net. These cause less damage to a fish's eyes, fins, scales, and protective mucus coating.
  5. Use a release tool such as a dehooker. These minimize handling and make it easier to release the fish without removing it from the water.

Handle With Care

  1. Never fight a fish to exhaustion.
  2. Never gaff a fish you plan to release.
  3. Dehook the fish in the water whenever possible.
  4. Cut the line as close to the hook as possible if a swallowed hook can't be easily removed.
  5. Keep air exposure to a minimum if you must remove a fish from the water. Less than 60 seconds is ideal.
  6. Handle the fish as little as possible and only with wet hands.
  7. Avoid touching the fish's eyes and gills.
  8. Support the weight of any fish removed from the water along the length of its body, especially its belly.
  9. Resuscitate a sluggish fish by facing it into the current until it regains strength and can swim away on its own.

Catch and release fishing improves native fish populations by allowing more fish to remain and reproduce in the ecosystem. When done correctly, catch and release methods result in high survival rates. At FishVault, we believe small steps like these can improve the fishing for generations to come.