Catch and Release - How to do it Properly.
By William D. Anderson
One of the best things you can do toensure that the fishing will remain great in your favorite lake is release thefish you catch. Unfortunately, it's not enough to just 'toss the fish back'after you unhook it. Many fish that are released die later due to a number ofreasons. In this article I'll explain some of those reasons and tell you whatyou can do to avoid unintentionally killing a fish.
Let's start with hooks. Obviously afish hooked in the lip is going to be better off than a fish that is hooked inthe gullet or gills. It's easy to remove the hook from a fish's lip withoutdoing major damage, but it's not so easy when the fish is gut hooked. For gillor gut hooked fish, it's better to simply cut off as much of the hook aspossible and release the fish. Never try to pull on the line to free the hook.This can cause severe damage to the fish and will always do more harm thangood. I've caught catfish that have had rusty hooks embedded in their throats,and bass with big rusty buzz baits in their mouths so I know first hand thatmany of these fish will live. In some cases the hooks will dissolve and thefish will spit them out. In other cases you can cut the eye of the hook off andgently slide the hook out, but this isn't advisable if you have to pull thehook up to get at it.
When a fish is hooked where you caneasily remove the hook without tearing him up, use a pair of pliers. Try toavoid wiggling the hook to work it back out. This puts more stress on the fish.For most of the lip hooked fish that I catch, I can grasp the hook with a pairof pliers, and while holding the fish in the water, twisting my wrist tosimultaneously unhook and release the fish. Try to avoid holding the fish withyour hands because you will wear away his protective coating. I'll explain moreabout this in a minute.
Some anglers use barbless hooks, orcrimp the barbs down with pliers. This makes unhooking a fish quick and easy.If you know how to retrieve a fish, you won't loose any fish because your hooklacks a barb.
When unhooking a fish, the longer ittakes, the more stress you put on the fish. You've heard the saying"Stress kills". It also applies to fish just as it does to humans,only more so. The longer a fish is out of water, the less his chances ofsurvival. Fish that are quickly returned to the water can sometimes be caughtagain later. Some tagged fish are an example of this. There have been countlessfish caught, tagged, released, and then caught again later. Sometimes they arecaught years later. Even if they are not caught, they might enhance the fisheryby producing offspring.
While a fish is out of the water, theway it is handled can make a big difference. Try to avoid touching the fish�s body with your bare hands.If you have ever touched a fish then had your hands smell or had that slimyfeeling, that's the protective mucous coating. This coating helps protect thefish from disease and should be left intact as much as possible. If you musthandle a fish by its body, wet your hands first. I've seen gloves thatsupposedly prevent damage to the mucous coating but have never tried them. Softwet gloves are better than nothing, and they will help keep the smell off yourhands. Avoid nylon or winter gloves because they are no better for the fishthan dry hands.
For bass and other fish that don'thave teeth capable of removing your fingers, you can hold the fish by theirlower jaws, however larger fish should be supported by their bellies. Somecatfish may not be able to puncture your skin with their teeth, but the biggerones can certainly crush your fingers to the point of breaking them. There aredevices available that allow you to grab muskies, pike, and other large fishthat have teeth. One that I've seen is similar to a towel that wraps around thefish with a handle at each end. This allows you to hold the fish and keep yourhands while at the same time allowing the fish to keep most of his protectivemucous coating.
The type of net you use makes adifference too. Try to avoid netting a fish when possible. But if you must, usea cotton mesh net or something other than hard nylon. Some have said thatcertain rubber nets are ok too, but I've never used one. Also, avoid the use of"knotted" nets. These knots act like sandpaper on a fish and caneasily remove scales or damage eyes. Another type of damage occurs when thetissue between the spines on the fins gets ripped. This impairs the fish'sability to swim properly. Never try to net a large fish with a small neteither. No matter what the material, you'll do a lot of damage if the net istoo small to properly accommodate the fish.
Prior to netting the fish, the way heis played makes a difference too. When a fish is hooked, he will fight to freehimself. This requires a great deal of energy. When a fish fights, he builds uplactic acid in his muscles very quickly. This is similar to what happens to uswhen we exercise. If you've ever had sore muscles after a workout then youunderstand what I'm talking about. In fish, this build up is highly toxic andcan cause death days later. To prevent this, avoid 'playing him out' andretrieve the fish as quickly as possible.
Getting the fish in quick is even moreimportant in warmer water. Fish are cold blooded and will always expend moreenergy in warmer water. So it makes sense that they will fight harder too. Theharder they fight, the more energy they expend and the more lactic acid theywill produce.
Once you have caught the fish, be verycareful not to let him flop around. Fish can bruise themselves or even causeserious internal injuries that can kill them later. Be careful not to drop afish. If you hold the fish incorrectly, chances are you're going to get theslippery protective coating on your hands and it will slide right out of yourgrasp. Fish can also shake and break your grip. Don't squeeze a fish to keephim from flopping. If you need a second to get your camera ready, place a wettowel under and over the fish. The bottom of your boat, or the ground willdamage the fish so it's important that something wet and soft be on both sidesof the fish.
Besides building up lactic acid, afighting fish uses up oxygen. They can become out of breath just like us. Thequicker he's brought in, the less out of breath he'll be and the more likelyhe'll be able to swim away without the need to be revived. Some people scoff atthis notion because fish don't breathe through their mouths (note that somespecies such as catfish are capable of breathing through their mouths). Theydon't think about the fact that fish have lungs and a heart just as we do. Whenwe're out of breath, it's because we've used up a lot of oxygen. We breathefaster to take in more air and our hearts beat faster to get the needed oxygenreplenished throughout our bodies. Fish are no different, but they are not aswell equipped to catch their breath.
Fish need to move their gills tobreath. If they are out of breath, they lack the energy to move which preventsthem from taking in more oxygen. Some fish are so out of breath after fightingan angler that they can't move their gills to force water over them. When thisoccurs they are unable to breathe and they die. If you wind up with a big oneon the end of your line, sometimes you have no choice but to fight the fish.When this happens and the fish runs out of energy, he can be revived. Place thefish in the water belly down and gently grasp him by the tail. If you're in ariver, point him up stream. Slowly move him back and forth until he lets youknow he's ready to take off. Be careful not to remove any of his protectivecoating. Most of the time they'll kick loose and swim away, but other timesyou'll need to repeat this more than once. Try not to let the fish go untilhe's ready. This is very important in current because he can be carried intorocks or other objects and be injured.
I've also heard people argue that fishdon't need to move to breath. They mention fish that sit in weed pockets asexamples. Those fish aren't expending energy or burning oxygen like they wouldbe if they were on the end of your line. They also have enough energy to movetheir gills as needed.
There is one exception to the rule ofbringing the fish in quickly and that is when you hook a fish at a depth ofaround 30 feet or greater. Any one who's ever had scuba training knows that ifa diver comes up too fast from great depths too quickly, he will get what'scalled "the bends". Something similar can happen to fish and it'salmost always fatal. If you're going to be catching fish from great depths, itoften best to keep them. If you're out for sport, it's best to target shallowerfish. It's very difficult to ensure that a fish brought up quickly from 30 feetor more will live.
When bringing in fish from the depths,it's often good to pause every few feet or so. This allows the fish todecompress and is similar to the same concepts taught in scuba classes. Thetrade off here is that the fish will still expend energy and build up lacticacid while he is hooked. Also, it may require 30 minutes or more for a fish toadjust his pressure so unless you're going to fight the fish for that long, youmight as well keep him.
I've heard that fish brought up fromdeep water will need their swim bladders popped. This is nonsense. Never sticka needle into a fish to puncture anything. You can be sure the fish will die ifyou do this. Sometimes the bladder will expand so much that the stomach will pop out of the fish�smouth. There's nothing you can do in this case but keep the fish. As I saidearlier, if you plan to release what you catch, target fish shallower than 30feet.
Some fishermen have devised methods toreturn fish back to deep water by using materials threaded through a fish's jawthat will break off when tugged. I have my doubts about this practice. Any fishthat has had its swim bladder exert extreme pressure on its internal organs, orhas his stomach protruding from its throat, has been damaged and is likely todie.
Another important thing you can do tohelp release your fish in good shape is to be prepared. Are your pliers withinreach? Is the camera ready? Anything you can do to get the fish back in thewater as quickly as possible will help ensure its survival. If you haveeverything you need within your reach, you won�thave to keep the fish out of water any longer than you have to.
Some people like to weigh trophy fishbefore they release them. When you weigh a fish, try to use a scale that allowsyou to place the fish on it, or place the fish in something that will belifted. Most scales have a hook on the end and do damage to fish. Never placethis in the eye of a fish, or in his gills. Place the fish in a wet towel andlift it with the hook. Remove the fish and weigh the wet towel and subtract theweight of the towel to get the weight of the fish. Or, zero the scale out withthe towel attached, and then weigh the fish. Newer scales grip the fish by thejaw.
An alternative to using a scale toobtain the weight of a fish is to carefully measure the length and girth of thefish and then use the calculator I have provided at the bottom of this page.Unless a scale has been certified as accurate, you�re only getting an estimate anyway. I onceweighed a fish on 3 of the most popular scales sold in tackle stores and gotthree different results.
When you release a fish, gently sethim back in the water. Never throw a fish back or toss him through the air intothe water. This will always harm the fish. If you are able to hold the fish bythe lower jaw, gently lower him into the water and let go. Other fish should bereleased belly down and pointed slightly towards the bottom. Never hold a fishby his gills or eyes. Remember to allow enough time to revive any fish thatmight need a little extra help.
Never place a fish that you're goingto release on a stringer or in a fish basket. A stringer run though the gillsis always a death sentence. Any time you scrape anything across fish�s gills, you impair hisability to breathe. Try to avoid live wells when possible too. Some live wellshave valves or handles in them that the fish will come in contact with. Many ofthese surfaces are not smooth and will remove scales or scrape off theprotective coating on a fish. A live well can be a good place for extrastorage.
Once you've caught your trophy you canpreserve the memory by taking a quick photo or two. Since you are releasing thefish, a good photo is a very important part of preserving the memory thatyou've just experienced. Practice your photography techniques when you are notfishing. Study the pictures that you have taken. Try to figure out what youcould have done better. A digital camera is a good investment because you candelete any bad photos, and you don't have to print the ones you don't want.Some come with viewfinders that let you review the photo you just took. Youknow right away if you need to take another picture.
Some of the things I've learned abouttaking pictures are very simple like making sure the sun is behind the camera.Also, try to have something else in the picture that will allow someone else toget a good grasp of the true size of the fish. This can be a ruler, the seat inyour boat, your fishing reel, or your hand. A nice full body shot of you andthe fish also makes for a good memory.
Catch and release fishing is all aboutpreserving the sport of fishing. When you take the time to learn to handle afish properly, and are able to release him unharmed, you are ensuring thatothers will be able to enjoy the sport in the future.
Catch & Release
For those that are not familiar with "catch & release", it iswhat it says. "Catch" the fish and then "release" it atsome point in the future for it to continue its course of survival. Some folkspractice it as their only means of fishing. Others use the practice todetermine which fish to bring home for food. Others practice it duringcompetition or as they search for a "trophy". Whatever your reasonfor practicing catch and release, the goal is always to release the fish sothat it might survive.
Herein lies the debate. How many of these released fish survive and what arethe conditions that determine their ultimate survival after release?Unfortunately, the answers are not easy to come by and many more studies needto be done to determine the factual answers. But, one thing is for certain – ifthe fish is kept by the angler then it has no chance of survival. Anotherappears close to certain – if catch & release is not practiced properly itcan result the death of the fish anyway.
A related question, but one that is not so obvious is the effect of theperception of catch and release. This will take a moment to explain. Moststates have limits as to the size and number of fish that can be kept for eachspecies (and the Federal Government sets limits on some saltwater species).These limits are established through estimates of what level of"culling" is healthy and sustainable for a fishery. Culling here isdefined as the removal of fish from the population (i.e./ being kept by theangler). A certain level of culling is healthy to a population in that it limitsthe number of fish that need to compete for food and habitat. Nature has a wayof culling through predatory relationships. Just as with hunting, people alsoparticipate in the culling process through limits imposed by the conservationagencies of our state and federal government. Yet, when it is perceived thatmany fish can be caught and released with little concern about daily bag limitsthen the angler must be especially concerned about the survivability of thefish which he/she is releasing back into the lake. If these fish do notsurvive, then that angler may in fact be over harvesting his/her allowablelimit. This applies to all anglers – non-tournament and tournament alike.Additionally, if released fish end up dying, floating and washing up on shore,a public outcry will be heard (and a wonderful resource will be wasted).
So, as we go into the subject of catch & release studies one must alwaysbe mindful of the two most important success factors related to this practice –Attitude and Knowledge. With the attitude that you intend to implement properconservation techniques and with the knowledge that allows you to understandthe results of your actions, you can help to contribute to a healthy,sustainable fishery.
Factors for Successful Catch & Release
Although the answers for this section are far from certain, there appear tobe a number of factors which significantly impact the success rate of catch& release. Studies for different taxonomic groups (types of fish) show thatimproper catch & release techniques can result in significant death ofreleased fish. By eliminating the stresses to the best of one’s ability, thedeath rates can be as low as 1% (although many factors may cause the actualrate to be higher no matter how meticulously the techniques are applied). So,following proper fish handling techniques during the entire process ofcatching, transporting, and weighing will mean the success or failure of yourcatch & release practice.
Realized average death rates for immediate catch & release and transportcatch & release will vary dramatically from species to species and arediscussed at length in many of the attached studies.
The following factors have direct impact on the success of catch &release and some are discussed in more detail below:
Species of fish (anatomically)
Different species have different mouth construction and differing locations of vital organs in relation to their throat
Species of fish (voracity of feeding)
Some species "mouth" a bait, while others inhale and swallow quickly (may also depend on bait used)
Type of terminal gear
Relates to the techniques used when employing the angling technique (i.e. bobber fishing for sunfish versus trolling for salmon). Some types of terminal gear are more conducive to deep hooking than others
Type of bait
Artificial or live, barbed or barbless hooks, single or treble hook. Different types of baits cause different locations of hooking wounds
Anatomical location of hooking wound
Hooks in the mouth are seldom associated with hooking related mortality, yet hooks in the gills or throat are often fatal
Relates to the activity level of fish. Typically the colder the water, the lower the activity level of the fish. The hotter the water, the higher the fish's level of activity and also the higher the stress experienced by the fish during capture, handling, and release
Depth caught at
Excessive depths can cause depressurization related mortality
Length of "fight"
Refers to the amount of time the fish is played at the end of the line
Time out of the Water
For some species, any time out of water will cause detrimental chemical changes on the gills that will effect survival. For almost all fish, time out of the water that exceeds 60 seconds can be very stressful
1. Oxygen and Water temperature. If you are an "immediate" catchand release angler, then these factors may not have as much impact as thoseanglers that capture, transport and then release fish. Studies haveconsistently demonstrated that mortality increased with temperature, and lowermortalities at lower temperatures have been associated with lower metabolicrates and physical activity..
· Forimmediate catch and release anglers it is important to be aware that the longera fish is out of the water, the higher the risk that the fish will becomeoxygen starved. This will have different effects on different species, but itincreases the risk of delayed mortality on all species. In some instances, likewith Rainbow Trout, the fish should not be removed from the water at all. Inother instances, like with Sailfish, the fish needs to be moved through thewater after removal of the hook so that it can revive. With higher water tempscomes a paradox…lower dissolved oxygen yet higher respiratory needs of thefish. With extremely low water temperatures (and air temperatures) comes theother end of the spectrum which can result in freezing damage to the fish’sgills, eyes and fins. The detrimental water temps differ for differenttaxonomic groups.
- For transport catch and release anglers, the levels of dissolved oxygen and the water temperatures of your livewells are the two most important factors to the survivability of the fish. Improper operation of livewell aeration and fresh water pumps can result in significant death of fish. A general rule of thumb is that if the water temperature is above 70 degrees farenheit you should run your fresh water pumps and aeration pumps constantly while you have fish in the wells (since most livewell pumps are run from the cranking battery that is recharged every time that you run with the "big motor", this will not have any negative effects on the troll motor battery reserve power for bass anglers. Check the wiring of your boat to confirm this).. Just because the fish are alive does not ensure that they will survive. Long periods of exposure to low oxygenated water will have seriously detrimental effects on delayed mortality. If you carry the fish within a sack to the weigh-in scales, you may be placing additional stress on the fish by way of waste buildup and oxygen depletion in the sack water. These are stresses that can be eliminated through water replacement and limiting the amount of time that the fish are in the sack. Within the sack, it is important to have a lot of water in the sack at all times and to replace some of the water within the sack with the treated, aerated water that should be present at the weigh-in troughs.
- Often times water temperatures within the attached studies are stated in degrees Celsius. In order to convert them to degrees Farenheit, simply use this link http://www.uncwil.ed...rd/tempconv.htm.
3. Depth – the deeper the water that a fish is brought up from, the higherthe risk of mortality. The depth ranges differ with each species of fish, butas a general rule if you are catching fish at depths greater that 30 feet thenthe fish will experience some level of depressurization stress. What is it andhow does it effect fish? The fish's air bladder becomes over-expanded causingincreased pressure on internal organs and restriction of blood flow. This inturn and can cause certain gases to come out of solution in the bloodstreamcausing vessel clogging bubbles (similar to the bends). The way in which thisfish is handled relative to the other stresses listed will compound its risk ofdeath. It is important to handle these fish with extreme care, or to avoidcatching these fish if you intend on releasing them later. Studies have shownthat fish caught at extreme depths can have mortality rates of more than 70%,whereas the same species caught in shallow water with all other conditionsunchanged may experience mortaility rates of 0%. Lake trout are a majorexception as they are physostomous and therefore do not experience overinflation of the air bladder.
4. Time out of Water Stress – studies have shown that the time out of thewater for a fish plays a significant role in its survivability. Here thedifference between 30 seconds and 60 seconds can be deadly to some species oftrout. The time above 60 seconds can significantly impact other species such asblack bass. Other species (certain catfish) are not nearly as sensitive tostress related to time out of water.
5. Terminal Tackle. The relationship of hook design and hook size to fishmortality is not a clear one. In many cases angler experience and the speed atwhich the angler "sets the hook" appear to have more impact on thedamage done than the hook itself. One exception appears to be the differencebetween barbed versus barbless hooks. This appears to be related to the abilityto remove a barbless hook more easily with less tissue damage, and it onlyappears to be a factor if the fish is hooked in certain areas (such as adeep-hook in the throat region). Tissue damage can loosely be associated withthe amount of bleeding caused by removing the hook. The more bleeding, the moretissue damage. "Circle hooks" have recently been in the media, yetthe results are mixed regarding their success. Generally, deep hooked fish thatbleed will have a difficult time surviving after release. This needs muchmore study for proof, but use extra care with a fish that bleeds from hookpenetration that you intend to release. Lots of fresh water and aeration withinthe livewell, or do not remove it from the water if you are immediatelyreleasing it.
The age old question..."Do I leave a deeply embedded hook in a fish'sthroat region, or do I remove it?" Studies seem to suggest doing both,leaving it in and removing it. Obviously, you can only do one or the other soyou must decide which to do.
It seems that if a hook is left in, it has the potential to block the fish'sthroat leaving the fish unable to swallow. The shank of the hook effectivelyshifts up when food that is being swallow presses against it, thereby notallowing the food to pass into the fish's stomach. The fish will eventually"spit" the food out of its mouth. As you can guess, this mayeventually lead to the fish starving to death.
However, removing the hook has the potential of creating more trauma to thehooking wound. Through additional tearing of the throat region and internalorgans, removing the hook may cause the fish to bleed to death.
If you feel that you can remove the hook without causing excessive bleeding,then attempt to remove the hook. Here a de-hooking tool can be an invaluabledevice and every angler should have one on board their boat. This is a devicethat slides down the hook's shank and into the hooking wound. It"covers" the embedded barb, reducing the tearing when the hook isremoved.
However, if you find that you cause more fish to bleed when you removehooks, then try a technique which is gaining popularity in the northeast. Uselong-handled cutting dikes (very long handles...10-12 inches) to cut the actualshank of the hook off leaving only the bend of the hook and the point imbeddedin the fish. This leaves less hook to rust and prevents the shank fromobstructing the passage of food through the fish's throat. If you use thesecutting dikes, be careful not to cut the soft tissue of the fish's throat, yetbe sure to cut as much of the hook shank and bend off as possible. These dikesare available at most auto retail stores.
One study found that leaving deeply imbedded hooks with a length of linestill attached in salmon and trout increase their chance of survival. Studieshave shown that removal of deeply imbedded hooks in these species will mostlikely result in the death of the fish (most probably caused by the tissuedamage done by forcing barbed hooks out and the resulting bleeding). However,cutting and leaving the hooks in has been shown to cause problems with survivalin stripedbass. The jury is still out on this one, but the use of a de-hookerto remove the hook or the use of dikes to cut away the majority of the hookshank while leaving only the embedded barb appear to be to alternative coursesof action.
6. Bait. Live bait versus artificial bait is not as clear as it once was. Thismay be due to the scented lures on the market now combined with new riggingtechniques. In past studies it was usually found that live (or chunk) bait wasmore often swallowed by the fish resulting in a deep-hook with significanttissue damage. Today, many artificial baits appear to generate similar resultsif the angler is not quick to set the hook.
What to Do to Ensure Successful Catch &Release
The following are simple suggestions and apply to all anglers, fromsaltwater to freshwater. To learn more on how to specifically conduct a blackbass tournament, read the instructions located at thislink. By following the instructions faithfully, you willsignificantly improve the successful release and survival of the fish. By notfollowing the instructions, you personally are putting that fish as well asthat fishery at risk.
- First and foremost, know the species that you are targeting. The level of care and the survivability of a particular fish is significantly different from species to species. The attached studies go into detail about the survivability of each species (study not yet posted. We expect to have it posted before August 21, 1999. Please return to this section of the article after that date to read about survival rates for species ranging from sunfish to spotted seatrout
- Second, keep the fish out of water as little as possible during the entire time that fish is in your possession. This time out of water is measured in seconds, not minutes. And for some species, it is risky to remove them from the water at all. If you are immediately releasing the fish, ensure that it is revived and swims off in a healthy manner under its own power.
- Third, take care with deeply embedded hooks (in the throat or gills). If you choose to leave the hook embedded in the fish, remove any plastic and lead from the bait. Then use long-handled cutting dikes to cut the actual shank of the hook off leaving only the bend of the hook and the point imbedded in the fish. This leaves less hook to rust and prevents the shank from obstructing the passage of food through the fish's throat. If you use these cutting dikes, be careful not to cut the soft tissue of the fish's throat. If you choose to remove the hook, use a de-hooking tool (available at most tackle outlets) and use care so as minimize or eliminate any tearing of the fish's throat or gills when removing the hook.
- Fourth, ensure that any containment vehicle (i.e./ livewell) contains adequate oxygen levels and good quality water. By running livewell pumps constantly and ensuring adequate replacement of water, you will maintain an environment conducive to the fish’s survival. By not doing this, especially in water temperatures that are greater than 75 degrees, you will severely limit the ability of that fish to survive after release.
- Fifth, employ proper weigh-in procedures. These are covered in detail within the instructions located at this link.
- Sixth, be realistic in assessing the survivability of a fish before release. If the fish does not swim upright, if it appears "bleached" and has little control of its movement or if its scales are is visibly and significantly damaged, then do not release the fish. This is a fish that will likely die and to release it is a waste. Bring the fish home and enjoy a fresh fish fry.
- Finally, release the healthy fish into good quality water in the main body of water. This is water which is cool, well oxygenated, and provides immediate access to deep water. Releasing fish (any species) into shallow warm water will have the potential to eliminate all of the positive efforts up to the release. Typically shallow water is hotter and less well oxygenated than the main body of the lake, and the fish which are being released are stressed and require the best release conditions possible for the highest rate of successful release. During organized tournaments (such as bass tournaments) this can be accomplished by using tournament boats to carry the fish to the main body of the lake.