Fish Need Water

“As long as you could hold your breath underwater after running a marathon” is a saying that comes along often on the topic of holding fish out of the water.  It is truly amazing the amount of anglers that participate in this incredible sport all across the world, it is also amazing the amount of anglers that seem to disregard any sort of concern for the fish’s well being once they have it in the net.  I have seen my fair share of poor handling practices, wild steelhead drug into 3 inches of water and 10 pound rainbows brought into the boat for 15 seconds while the angler unhooks it and takes an excessive amount of photos.  I’ve even seen folks go as far as willingly keeping fish in a catch & release lake only to have their truck, trailer, boat and gear seized by a conservation officer.  It’s no secret that keeping the fish in the water for photos is becoming a very positive trend, and it couldn’t be coming around at a better time.  Days of the “grip and grin” with the fish high and dry out of the water are becoming a thing of the past.  The most important part of fly fishing is that we do our part to give a fish the best chance of surviving, unless it is being retained.  Here’s a list of tips for handling the safest way possible:

  • No Gloves, Ever – Wearing gloves while handling fish is an absolute no.  I don’t care if it’s -14 in December and you’ve been on the river all day, if you’re warm enough to be out fishing then it’s warm enough to take your gloves off to handle a fish.  Fish have a naturally occurring slime that protects them from disease and infection, gloves wipe that all away when they come in contact with the fish.  Take the extra 5 seconds to take your gloves off and put them in a pocket of some sort, they will be dry and warm by the time you’re done releasing your fish.

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  • Underwater Shots – The best investment I ever made was buying a GoPro and mounting it on my net.  I don’t need to have anyone there taking the picture and the fish doesn’t leave the water.  Just set it on video mode when releasing a fish, then sort through and pull a still image that you want off of your laptop or phone.

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  • Not All Nets Are Equal – Using a net is good, but only if the net you are using is fitting for catch and release.  The stiff nylon twine and aluminum handle nets are detrimental to fish, often catching gill plates and knocking off protective slime.  If you are going to invest in one thing for your boat, invest in a good net that is suited to catch and release.  Make sure it floats so you can use both hands when releasing a fish, and even better make sure it has “catch and release” mesh or a silicone basket.

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  • Hands Away from Vitals – Cradling a fish properly is crucial.  So many photos of fingers squeezing the life out of the area just in front of the fish’s pectoral fins.  Here lies it’s vitals which need to be paid close attention to when handling.  Always gently cradle the fish behind its pectoral fin, never ever squeeze for any reason.

Anatomical drawing of trout

Hero Shots – It’s not that taking a photo of a nice fish is a bad thing in any way, it’s the act of compromising the fish’s well being for likes on social media.  Holding a fish and looking at a camera does not have to involve removing it from the water for ten seconds.  There are plenty of ways to take photos of fish submerged or with their gill plate’s touching the water, even if there is nobody around to take a photo but yourself.

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This isn’t meant to come of as preaching, it is meant to come of as informative as to just how fragile they are.  Even practicing perfect catch and release tactics does not guarantee that every fish will live, lactic acid buildup and shock can inhibit the fish from making a full recovery.  A small percentage of fish do not live through being caught and released (especially if they getting caught often), but we should do everything we can to maximize their chances at survival.  Thank you for reading and as always if you have any questions or comments feel free to drop me an email.  Until next time, happy fishing!

 

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