Understanding how to properly handle fish when practicing catch and release is important for a few reasons. One reason being that some fisherman may have good intentions, but don’t realize that their techniques aren’t being carried out correctly which can have a detrimental effect on both the fish and the fishery itself.
The second reason is that by learning how to effectively release fish, we can all do our part by educating others, thus helping secure the sustainability of pressured and overfished waters.
Not everybody releases their catch and like my father enjoy keeping a trout or two for the pan which is more than ok, but for the ones who do here are 5 easy tips on how to properly handle fish.
1. Fish out of water
Surely not every angler needs to take a photo of their catch but for the people who need proof, 3 to 4 seconds is all it should really take to get a good picture. Once being held out of the water, a trout can no longer breathe and every second its kept out decreases its chances of survival. Make sure to hold the fish at a low height and over water, this will ensure that if the trout falls out of your hands it won’t damage itself by falling too far or onto a hard surface.
2. Trout holds
If you are to handle a trout for any reason, whether it’s holding it out for a photo or helping revive it in the water, don’t squeeze! As shown in the picture above, most of a trout’s vital organs rest near its underside behind the pectoral fins. Although these aquatic beauties can be slippery and hard to hold, by having too tight a grip you run the risk of damaging its internal organs. Also, keep your fingers far away from its gills. The gills are a very sensitive part of the trout and it is how they breathe, so to cause harm to its gills is a sure way of killing your catch.
3. Wet Hands
Wetting your hands and removing gloves that don’t absorb water is so important when handling fish and is a huge part of C&R 101. Trout have a protective layer of slime that covers their body and is their defense against fungus’s as well as other harmful bacteria. Wetting your hands helps reduce the chances of removing that same protective layer of mucus. I’ve attached a link below of a video that is an example of what happens to a fish overtime after by being handled with thick gloves.
4. Rubber Mesh Nets
If an angler is wanting to practice good fish handling, using a net with a rubber mesh bag is a good place to start! Using a nylon or knotted net can damage that layer of slime, whereas rubber mesh netting is overall a much gentler material. If you’re in the market for a new net, Fishpond has created a thick mesh bag that’s attached to all of their landing nets while the company McLean sells a variety of nets made with a thin rubber mesh that also come with a weigh scale. Once you’ve safely scooped up the fish, keep your net in the water at all times and use the net to support the fish in it, not hold it out of the water.
When releasing a fish, there’s a few things to always remember. The first is to release your catch facing upstream or in clean, slow moving water if possible. The second is to always make sure the fish is revived and strong enough to swim away on its own. If a fish is too tired, releasing it into a heavy current will only inflict further damage to it so if you’re worried a good test it to gently hold the fish by the tail and turn it on its side. If the fish can turn back upright and swim, it’s ready to be let go.
Whether it's a small alpine cutthroat or 10lb New Zealand brown, the trout resting at the bottom of your net is a sensitive creature and should be handled with care. Of course, the best kind of fish handling is hands free handling! If you’re not bothered about taking a photo or spending too much time admiring the work of art, the best thing you can do it gently remove the hook and lower your net so that your beautiful catch can swim away untouched and unharmed.
If you are more of a visual learner click here to watch Alex Waller's video guide to handling fish better.
For more information, follow the links below: