CATCH AND RELEASE ALIVE
With many anglers getting ready to head out for the first fishing trip of the year it's a good time to remind ourselves about proper methods for catching and releasing our quarry alive. Now if you are not into catch and release then you can skip this article, but I know that many anglers, especially trout anglers, release the majority of the fish that they catch. These are a few rules that will help insure that the fish you release will live to be caught another day.
For ease of release use barbless hooks or smash down the barbs to make the hook barbless. This makes releasing the fish much easier. I prefer to file down the barbs on barbed hooks since smashing or crushing them leaves a bump that sometimes interferes with an easy release. In addition, unless done carefully, smashing or crushing the barb may weaken the hook point and cause it to break. Even the hooks with micro-barbs making releasing fish more difficult, so I recommend filing off the micro barb.
KEEP THE FISH IN THE WATER
I know that everyone likes to take pictures of a smiling angler holding up a nice fish but I would recommend leaving the fish in the water if you want to increase the chances of survival after it is released. If you just have to have a picture make certain that the photographer is ready to shoot before you lift the fish out of the water, take the image quickly and get the fish back into the water.
WET YOUR HANDS
If you are going to handle the fish wet your hands before touching it. Wet hands do not remove the protective slime that covers the fish thus increasing the chances that the fish can be released unharmed.
USE A NET
This is particularly important for anglers that do not handle many fish during the year. While I have landed many fish without using a net it is usually much easier to control a fish, especially a larger specimen, if you use a net. The new rubberized mesh nets are considered by many people to be superior to the nylon or cotton mesh nets, but the use of any net is preferable to hand landing a fish. A fish that is in a net can be left in the water, which will make it feel more comfortable, and then it's easy just to run your hand down the leader, push out the hook and quickly release the fish. If you want a picture leave the fish in the net, leave the net in the water, take your picture and release the fish. The net will provide you with a size reference so that you can brag about your 'big one' to your friends.
REVIVE EXHAUSTED FISH
Sometimes a fish will put on a very determined struggle and once it is landed it is completely exhausted. This usually results from using a tippet that is too light, a rod that is too soft, or by an angler that is too inexperienced to land the fish quickly. Sometimes fish, especially cold water species, that are caught in water that is warmer than normal will come to the net completely exhausted. These fish need to be revived before they are released. It's especially important to keep these fish in the water and once the hook is removed to hold the fish upright and gently move it back and forth in the water. This will allow water to flow over the gills. Hold the fish loosely and once it is sufficiently revived it will generally swim away.
All too often I see anglers land a fish, remove the hook and then toss the fish back into the water. If you remove a fish from the water don't simply toss it back but bend over and put the fish into the water and allow it to swim away. While a fish that is tossed back into the water may not be injured I believe that it shows disrespect for the fish and sets a bad example for other anglers. Remember, PETA would like to stop all fishing and anything that looks like mistreatment or cruelty will just give them more ammunition.
These are some simple rules that will help assure that the fish that you release will live to be caught another day.