Safe Catch & Release Techniques
My friend and fellow fly fishing guide just sent me a picture in an email titled: "How to Hold a Fish." The title was obviously written with a good deal of sarcasm. The poor trout has bulging eyes, incontinence, and, if we could hear it, I'm sure the gurgle and groan wouldn't be a pleasant sound. Catch and release doesn't work if the fish wobble-stagger-swims off to die from trauma sustained during his photo opp. This leads me to this little reminder on catch and release etiquette and fish safety.
1. Land the fish as quickly as possible. My dad had a friend whose name began with L and lent itself nicely to a nickname - "light-drag L____". He was so careful as he played fish that he would battle a 10 inch brook trout for 10 minutes. You don't need to totally exhaust the fish before landing it. Get it in the net at your first opportunity and the fish will have energy to swim away.
2. Always wet your hands before touching the fish. Dry hands will remove the protective slime coating that keeps the fish disease-free.
3. Keep fish in the water as much as possible. Only lift them briefly for photos.
4. Never ever squeeze fish just to try to hold on for a picture. Gently cradle them with 2 hands from below. Because fish are constantly supported by a heavier-than-air fluid, namely water, the fish's internal organs aren't protected like ours. Depending on the fish species, a good squeeze might be like breaking 4 of your ribs and puncturing your liver and spleen. Sound like fun?
5. Use a net. A net, especially a net with a large rubber or rubber coated bag, will save many fish. Simply allow them to swim around in the net until it's time for the photo.
6. If you are going to fish, be prepared to very occasionally keep a fish when necessary. Do all you can do to release fish unharmed, however, know that sometimes it just doesn't work out and, as anglers, we need to be prepared for the inevitable time when a fish isn't going to make it. Don't release a fish that's going to die. Get out the butter and fire up the grill.
Following these tips will keep fish alive for everyone to enjoy.