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Best Practices for Catch & Release Fishing

Written by James Schulz
Published: Last Updated on

Sustain our robust fisheries by counting your total catch and handling with skill all the fish you release.

Fish Handling

  • Minimize handling, since this can remove protective slime from the fish.
  • If you handle a fish, use clean, wet hands.
  • Support the fish beneath the head and belly.
  • Minimize exposure to air, maximum 15 seconds.
  • Avoid using mechanical lip-gripping devices on active fish, since this can cause jaw injury.
    •  If a fish’s weight is desired, attach a cradle to the scale to support the fish’s weight.
  • Keep fingers away from the gills, damaged gills make it harder for the fish to breathe.

Hooks

  • Use barbless hooks, since this reduces the amount of handling needed to remove the hook.
  • When fishing with bait, use circle hooks.
  • If a hook is deep within the throat, cut the line as close to the hook as possible.
    • This causes less damage than removing a deeply-set hook; most fish are able to reject the hook or the hook dissolves over time.

Fight Time

  • Keep the fight short, but not too short.
    • Long fight times result in an exhausted fish, which is more vulnerable to predators.
    • A fish reeled in too quickly may thrash about, increasing it’s chances of injury.
  • Use tackle that matches the fish and conditions.
  • If a fish looses equilibrium (it rolls over or goes nose down on the bottom), retrieve it until it can swim upright, then shorten the fight time on future fish.
  • When retrieving a fish, be sure that water passes over the gills from front to back.
    • Move the fish forward or hold it upright in the water allowing it to pump water through it’s gills.
  • High water temperatures may negatively impact bonefish survival after release.  In warmer water, reduce fight and handling time.

Predators

  • Since predators can decrease survival of fish after release, when predators become abundant and appear to become attracted to your fishing activity, consider moving to another fishing location.
  • If you have caught a fish and potential predators are near, consider using a circulating live-well to hold your fish for a short time to allow releasing it some distance away from them. 

Count Your Catch

  • Use AnglerAction.org’s on the water trip record or iAngler phone apps to record your whole catch while fishing.  (Remember to record all sizes and 0 catch as well).  
  • Review your trips for accuracy when you are at home on www.angleraction.org

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