Brian has agreed to stick this for our forum.
Catch and release should be practiced because they are essential tools for good conservation. If every fisherman keeps every fish that they catch, a fishery will soon be fished out. Selective harvest has been the friend of outdoorsmen in almost every aspect of game management. By choosing which fish to keep, and which to return to the water, a fisherman can help to develop a strong, healthy fishery.
Choosing Your Tackle
- Use strong line to bring your catch in quickly. If you are having difficulty landing fish in low oxygen water conditions and exhaustion is a concern, beef up your leader to allow you to bring them in faster. From a conservation standpoint it is better to catch fewer fish as the result of a heavier leader than to inadvertently kill fish through excessive exhaustion.
- Fish caught with flies or lures survive at a higher rate than fish caught with bait.
- Use hooks appropriate to the size of the fish.
- Go Barbless. Barbless hooks allow for a much easier and quicker release of your fish, with less damage to the fish's mouth. You can use pliers to pinch down the barbs on your hooks or you can carefully file them off of large hooks.
Landing Your Catch
- Land your fish as carefully and quickly as possible. When a fish is hooked, he will fight to free himself. This requires a great deal of energy. When a fish fights, he builds up lactic acid in his muscles very quickly. This is similar to what happens to us when we exercise. If you've ever had sore muscles after a workout then you understand what I'm talking about. In fish, this build up is highly toxic and can cause death days later. Getting the fish in quick is even more important in warmer water. Particularly when fishing for coldwater species like trout, when the water becomes warm, fish have a decreased chance of survival after being released. Warm water contains less dissolved oxygen and fish are under more stress in a warmer water environment. When water temps are high, consider other fishing opportunities that will have less impact.
- Avoid removing the fish from the water if possible. Fish live under water their entire lives and are accustomed to feeling the pressure of water around them. They are accustomed to being wet and derive oxygen from passing water through their mouths and gills and pulling the oxygen from it. When removed from the water the pressure changes on their bodies, and they are essentially drowning in the air. If you want to take a photograph, have the photographer get ready, then lift the fish barely out of the water (unless prohibited by regulation e.g. king salmon in Cook Inlet) and quickly return it to the water. We call this practicing CPR (Catch, Photo, Release)
- Do not let fish flop about in shallow water, on the ground, or in the bottom of your boat. Fish can bruise themselves or even cause serious internal injuries that can kill them later. Be careful not to drop a fish. If you hold the fish incorrectly, chances are you're going to get the slippery protective coating on your hands and it will slide right out of your grasp. Fish can also shake and break your grip. Don't squeeze a fish to keep him from flopping.
- Use landing nets made with soft or knotless mesh. Avoid the use of "knotted" nets. These knots act like sandpaper on a fish and can easily remove scales or damage eyes. Another type of damage occurs when the tissue between the spines on the fins gets ripped. This impairs the fish's ability to swim properly. Never try to net a large fish with a small net either. No matter what the material, you'll do a lot of damage if the net is too small to properly accommodate the fish.
Handling Your Catch
- Keep your fish in the water. Research has shown that keeping a fish in the water dramatically increases its chances of survival. Think of it – after the fight of your life, say going 12 rounds in a boxing ring or running a marathon, imagine having your air cut off! That's exactly what we do when we lift fish from the water. Fish kept out of the water for more than one minute have a greatly diminished chance of survival, once a fish has been out of the water for three minutes, it has virtually no chance of survival, even if it swims away.
- Cradle large fish gently with both hands: one under its belly, one at the tail. Avoid lifting vertically by the jaw or gill plate. The weight of the viscera of large fish is sufficient to tear internal connective tissue. The connective tissue does not grow in nature to resist gravity in this direction.
- Keep your fingers out of and away from the gills and eyes.
- Use wet hands. All fish have a protective slime layer on their skin; a protective mucous coating. This coating helps protect the fish from infection and disease and should be left intact as much as possible. Dry hands have potential to remove this slime. Wet wool gloves are acceptable as well.
- Never squeeze the fish.
- Support your fish in the water while your partner takes your picture. Fish can not remain healthy out of water for longer than you can hold your breath.
- With small fish, simply remove the hook without touching or handling the fish at all
Removing Your Hook
- Use long nose pliers to back the hook out. Pliers or similar tools allow you to remove hooks with better control and limit your "hands on" contact with the fish. Fish that are barely hooked or hooked in the lip can usually be freed with your hand, but it's a good idea to always have a pair of needle nose pliers for those harder to reach hooks.
- Remove the hook quickly, keeping the fish underwater.
- When the fish is hooked deeply, cut the line to release the fish. If a fish is hooked in the eye or gills, it should be kept if legal to do so. A fish that is bleeding excessively or that has sustained major damage to it's gills, throat, or eye will most likely not survive.
- Avoid stainless steel hooks. Standard steel hooks will rust out much faster if a hook must be left in a fish.
Reviving Your Catch
Besides building up lactic acid, a fighting fish uses up oxygen. They can become out of breath just like us. The quicker he's brought in, the less out of breath he'll be and the more likely he'll be able to swim away without the need to be revived. Some people scoff at this notion because fish don't breathe through their mouths (note that some species such as catfish are capable of breathing through their mouths). They don't think about the fact that fish have lungs and a heart just as we do. When we're out of breath, it's because we've used up a lot of oxygen. We breathe faster to take in more air and our hearts beat faster to get the needed oxygen replenished throughout our bodies. Fish are no different, but they are not as well equipped to catch their breath.
Fish need to move their gills to breath. If they are out of breath, they lack the energy to move which prevents them from taking in more oxygen. Some fish are so out of breath after fighting an angler that they can't move their gills to force water over them. When this occurs they are unable to breathe and they die. If you wind up with a big one on 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 the fish in the water belly down and gently grasp him by the tail. If you're in a river, point him up stream. Slowly move him back and forth until he lets you know he's ready to take off. Be careful not to remove any of his protective coating. Most of the time they'll kick loose and swim away, but other times you'll need to repeat this more than once. Try not to let the fish go until he's ready. This is very important in current because he can be carried into rocks or other objects and be injured.
Info obtained from:
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