You probably don’t need to eat every fish you catch; learn to catch and release correctly and you will give that fish a chance to fight another day.
1. Pinch down the barbs on your hooks, or use barbless hooks.
Barbless hooks are easier to remove, and the faster you take the hook out the better for the fish.
2. Don’t use bait.
It’s easier to detect bites on artificials, so you tend to set the hook quicker. Fish often swallow baits hook and all, it’s called “gut hooking.”
If you are unfortunate enough to gut hook a fish and don’t plan on keeping it, you are better off not trying to remove the hook; just cut the line near the mouth.
3. Use regular hooks, not stainless steel or or gold/nickel plated hooks.
If you gut hook a fish and have to leave the hook in, a regular bronzed hook can be dissolved by the fish’s stomach acids.
4. Set the hook as soon as possible.
Setting the hook fast avoids the evil aforementioned gut hooking and tends to result in a good, solid, jaw hooking.
5. Play the fish quickly.
The longer you play a fish the more lactic acid builds up in the fish’s body. Lactic acid is the chemical that makes your muscles burn when you over exert yourself. Too much of that and the fish will not survive.
An easy way to make sure you don’t over play the fish is to use gear that is appropriate for the species that you are targeting; use heavy gear for big fish.
6. If the fish is large don’t net it.
A large fish can do a lot of damage to itself while thrashing in a net. If you have to use a net for smaller fish, use a shallow catch-and-release net, the soft kind with no knots.
7. Keep the fish in the water.
Keeping the fish in the water the entire time is the best way to to release a fish, as it is the least stressful. Remember that fish cannot breath out of water, so if you need to take a picture of your catch, you better make it quick.
8. Handle the fish gently.
Don’t squeeze the fish, you can damage its internal organs.
For heaven’s sake keep your fingers out of the fish’s gills, damage the gills and the fish is as good as dead.
Don’t drop the fish on rocks, ground or boat where it can get hurt from the impact or thrashing, and where it will certainly damage its protective slime covering.
If you are “lipping” a fish (holding it by the jaw), please let it hang straight down from the jaw; don’t torque it. Applying torque to the jaw in this manner can damage the jaw so badly that the fish will be unable to feed.
Correct way to hold a bass
Photo by Topato
9. Use pliers, forceps or other hook removal tool.
Remove the hook by backing it out the way it came in. This should be easy if you remembered to pinch the barb down.
The less you handle the fish the better. This is where a good hook removal device comes in handy. There are lots of hook removal tools, but I’m partial to pliers or forceps.
10. Resuscitate if necessary.
If the fight was too long, the fish may become exhausted. You’ll know this because instead of swimming away when released it will just roll on its side.
To revive the fish, hold it upright by placing your hand underneath the fish, facing the current if there is one. Wait until the fish swims away on it’s own.
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