By Greg Hall
“Catch and Release” has been around and in practice for many years. Fishing organizations embrace it. I still think taking a few fish on a very rare occasion provides a great meal and is an acceptable practice. Fish are returned to the waters with the thought that they will survive to be caught by another angler in the future. Many of us have no idea how fragile our released fish are, or what practices we can do to promote their survival.
Dr. Ed Crum has best described to me what catching a fish is like, to the fish, in human terms: think about running 40 yard sprints and then sticking your head in a bucket of water and trying to breathe. Hopefully, that got your attention!! Let’s use some common sense and observe some practices to improve the chances of keeping your catch extant.
- In choosing your fishing equipment, match the proper rod weight with to fish you plan to catch.
- Don’t use a 3 wt rod to catch 5 pound trout.
- Use a proper catch and release net with rubber netting. The other nets cut into the fishes skin, removes the protective mucous membrane and can cause infections.
- WET YOUR HANDS before handling the fish.
- After netting your catch keep the fish in the water at all times. Unhook quickly and under water.
Using the proper size rod to match the fish you are catching allows one to land a fish easier than bringing it to exhaustion using a lighter outfit. Trout will exhibit lighter discolorations in skin areas where the oxygen in those tissues is near or at exhaustion. If they survive it may possibly take many hours to recover. By keeping pressure on the fish using the rod tip in the opposite direction that the fish is traveling will fatigue the larger lateral muscles without exhausting your catch. By the way, FISH BARBLESS HOOKS. The time it takes to free and the damage the barbs create may cause your released fish to be no longer extant.
The eye and mouth of the fish can demonstrate how stressed your catch is:
Ready to release: when the eye is focused, moving, looking down into the corner; mouth closed or slightly open
Fatigue and some stress: eye is fixed with some dilation and not looking down; mouth slightly open. Gently revive moving back and forth in slow current until the fish is capable of swimming off on its own.
Suffering severe shock, stress, and possibly near dead: Pupils fixed and dilated fully (glass eye appearance); mouth fully open and no movement. Little can be done at this point to revive your fish.
Life threatening injuries to your catch usually involve keeping it out of the water too long, damaging the gills with the hook or your fingers, and /or squeezing the fish behind the pectoral fins in the area of the heart.
The large brown trout exhibits a trout near death. The rainbow shows a little stress but with proper handling will regain excellent condition for release.
Videos and pictures of your catch can be safely taken if you keep your fish in the net in the water until the video/ camera is ready. Quickly hold the fish up and out of the water for no longer than fifteen seconds or less and place him back into the net, check his condition and properly release
I hope this gives a better understanding of really what “catch and release” should be. Hopefully other anglers will enjoy these fish and practice the same techniques.
Greg Hall, Exec. Pro Staff
Fly Rod Chronicles