Noah Parker, Land of Enchantment Guides
Releasing the fish we catch is the best way we have for preserving a quality fishery. If you want to have good fishing tomorrow, please release the fish you catch today. Just because a fish swims away after it leaves your hands, does not necessarily mean it is in good shape. A fish that is carelessly handled and then released, may die later the same day or may be so weakened and injured that it dies a week or month later. It takes care and caring to properly catch and release a fish so it stays healthy. Here are some guidelines to try and follow:
- When holding a fish, either for a picture or to look at it, always use both hands.
- Cradle the fish by cupping your hands under the forward part of the body and the tail. (Don’t pick a fish up with one hand in the middle as you see in so many photos; it hurts the fish – especially larger ones picked up this way).
- Where applicable, use barbless hooks. An easily removed hook reduces the amount of fish handling. You can pinch the barbs down with a pair of pliers or hemostats.
- Try and land your fish as quickly as possible. The longer you play a fish, the more exhausted it becomes and the less likely it is to recover.
- Before handling a fish and/or taking it out of a net, wet both of your hands. This helps prevent the removal of a fish’s protective slime.
- Don’t squeeze the fish; don’t put your fingers in its mouth, gills or on its eyes; don’t grab its tail and lift it out of the water.
- Back the hook out carefully. If it helps or is needed, use a suitable tool such as forceps, pliers, or a de-hooking/catch and release tool.
- Try and keep the fish in the water at all times. If you want to take a photo of the fish out of the water, get everything set up, then lift the fish up and snap the photo quickly. Put the fish back in the water immediately after you take the picture. Try and limit the fish’s time out of the water to less than 15 seconds.
- Don’t let it flop around out of the water, on the ground or in the bottom of a boat. If possible, un-hook your fish and take any photos of it over or better yet, in the water – those pictures of a trout lying in the grass are not a good idea and very harmful to the fish.
- If the fish is hooked any deeper than the lips or in a part of the mouth where you can un-hook it easily, clip off the fly and let the fish go leaving the fly in it (the hook will rust out quickly).
- If a fish rolls over on its side or back, it’s exhausted. You will need to give the fish special care (see the next section).
- If your fish is exhausted and appears weak and overly tired, you will need to revive it. To revive a fish, grasp it gently in front of the tail and just behind the gills by cupping your hand underneath the belly. Move it gently back and forth so water works through its gills, providing it oxygen. Don’t let go the first time the fish tries to swim away; let it go the second time, making sure it is revived. Try and do this in an area where there isn’t much current. If need be, you can block the current with your upstream leg and revive your fish in the quiet water behind it.
- Don’t dump a fish into fast water. It can start to tumble and not be able to get to a safe location where it can rest and breathe. Try and let it go gently in calmer water so it can swim away easily, at its own pace and find some shelter.
Thank you in advance for releasing the fish you catch. We owe these fish quite a debt of gratitude for letting us catch them and providing us with such enjoyment. The least we can do in return is to release them correctly and try to guarantee their continued survival and health.