Don’t keep fish you might release out of the water for long after a catch. Remember the fish has been fighting hard, harder than you have been. Keeping it out of the water is the equivalent of holding a bag over a runner’s head after they have completed a marathon.
Bottom line, If they’re going back in toss them back ASAP!
The longer the fish is out of the water and not able to swim and oxygenate it’s gills, the more likely it will suffer permanent damage. Additionally, once it has been handled by human hands, his livelihood is now in serious danger, especially if the angler is not educated on best practices to return him to the open waters as safely as possible.
So, What Do You Need to Know BEFORE you head out for the day?
Know the Rules and Regulations
Always be aware of current regulations and know how to measure the fish you target. This will minimizes handling time when determining whether or not you cannot will keep the fish you just caught. Be very careful to release those you cannot legally keep.
It is generally agreed upon by wildlife and game authorities that barbless hooks and circle hooks both yield less damage to the fish, and less chance of gut-hooking. They also yield more reliable catches.
So, if you’re fishing in waters that may yield smaller fish, or you’re fishing beyond your limit for fun, use barbless circle hooks. These hook can increase your catch rate and help kill less fish unintentionally. A Win-Win to Get ‘em on safety dood!
Caution: Barbed hooks cause more damage to fish by decreasing the chance it’ll be gut-hooked.
Pliers are a must-have tool when fishing
As you probably know from observation, advice or personal experience, tearing a hook out of a fish can lead to infection, permanent damage and death. This can happen even if the hook isn’t in deep.
Caution: Use needle-nose pliers or a hook remover to remove the hook. Don’t just tear it out, especially if the hook is embedded in a gill or deep inside the mouth.
When the fish is out of the water
- Flopping Around: Although its best to avoid having the fish flop around in the bottom of a boat, sometimes it happens inadvertently. Once you have control of the fish, be sure to dip it back in the water. A brief re-wet will minimize the damage and stress to your catch.
- No Hot, Dry Surfaces: Avoid placing the fish on any hot or dry surface on your vessel. If you need to put the fish down for hook removal for example, place the fish on a wet towel and use wet hands when handling it.
- Hold Horizontally: Fish live in the water which is a buoyant environment and they tend to stay horizontal in the water. Holding a fish by the tail or the gills can cause its organs to crush to one side resulting in internal bleeding, serious long-term damage or death.
Keep these factors in mind especially when angling during the hot summer months, and take extra care with your fish.
- Temperature: At higher temperatures, fish need more oxygen.
- Oxygen deficiency: Low oxygen content in the water leads to a more rapid respiration rate.
- Increased activity of the fish (faster swimming): The heart output and respiratory volume are increased which can cause stress on its organs and other problems.
Note: Several studies across the globe have demonstrated the damaging effects of air exposure on fish and emphasize the importance of reducing handling time and air exposure.
Wet your hands
Fish have a protective coating that keeps their skin and scales healthy. If you’re going to handle a fish you are going to throw back, you must wet your hands; this simple act will help to maintain its protective coating.
Also, if you’re having trouble controlling the fish, put a towel (wet) over its eyes, and/or roll it on its side (not vertically). If you do one or both, the fish will become more docile reducing the risk of being dropped by you, injured or killed in the process.
Photographing Your Catch Do’s & Don’ts
Releasing a fish and watching it swim away unharmed is the goal. You can still get a great photo prior to releasing it. You should preserve the memory of your catch with a quick photo, and by following the do’s and don’ts tips below, you can ensure the fish can re-enter the familiar waters from which he came and not skip a beat so to speak.
- Have your camera ready to minimize the time for the fish to be out of the water.
- Great photos can be taken while holding the fish just above the water, which minimizes air exposure.
- Wet your hands prior to handling the fish and be sure they are free of sunscreen or solvents. This will prevent damage to the fish while handling it for your photo.
- If you need time to prepare for your photo, hold the fish in water until you are ready.
- It is best to hold your fish horizontally as we indicated above, so the fish is supported and the full weight is not just on the mouth.
- A great fish and a great photo has its weight fully supported with minimal skin contact with the angler and is quickly returned to the water.
- Hold the fish by their lower jaw. This can damage their jaw muscles affecting their ability to feed (if returned to the water). Some people hold fish by the jaw to gain control of them, if you see someone trying to do this, tell them the damage they can cause!
- You hands should never contact the gills. This can damage the sensitive gill tissue, especially if there are oils/sunscreen on your hands.