How to Catch and Release

Not all anglers fish for food. Many enjoy it for the sport—and the good fish stories! But if you are new to the art of angling, you might be wondering about the best practices for catch and release. Technique is important to keep the fish safe and to protect the environment. Here’s how you can catch and release like a pro!

Start with the Right Equipment

Keeping your fish alive starts with choosing the best equipment for catch and release. You need fish-friendly hooks such as circle hooks, barbless J hooks, or self-release hooks. When you’re about to remove the fish from the hook, you should pinch the bar on your hook to make it flat. This will make it easier to remove the fish from the hook with the least amount of damage. 

Artificial lures or flies will also be best when you aren’t fishing for food. They maximize the likelihood of fish getting hooked in the lip, which will make the fish more likely to survive!

As soon as you reel your fish in, land it. This will help your fish avoid exhaustion and give it a chance to “catch its breath.” Although it might sound counterintuitive, heavy-duty gear is also the best choice when you aren’t fishing for food. This will make it easier to land the fish quickly.

Keep the Fish Wet from the Catch to the Release 

You should also keep the fish in water to keep it safe. If you have to take your fish out of the water for some reason, you should wet your hands first. You can also purchase fish gloves to keep as much moisture on the fish as possible. 

Watch where you put your hands! You should steer clear of the fish’s gills or eyes. You can also find special gadgets like de-hookers or decompression tools that ensure minimal handling.

If you’re going to take a fish picture, you should ideally do it with the fish still in water. If for some reason that’s not possible, you should pose quickly after you unhook the fish.

Your fish will greatly appreciate some recovery time before you fully release it. You can hold the fish in an upright position underwater or secure it in the landing net. Make sure you can see the gills opening and closing before you release. 

When returning the fish to the water, there are certain methods you can use to keep the fish safe. Releasing head-first will help push any lingering water through the mouth and over the gills to resuscitate the fish. If you’re in water with a heavy current, try moving to a calmer area if possible.

Choose Fish for Dinner Based on How They are Hooked

Maybe you’re planning on keeping one or two fish for dinner, but you’re going to release the others. Don’t automatically choose to keep the biggest fish and release the smaller ones.

Instead, you should choose to keep and release fish based on how they were hooked. For example, if some fish were hooked on the lip, it’s best to let those go. They’ll have the best chance of survival! On the other hand, if you’ve noticed some fish are bleeding or have swallowed the hook, you should keep those. They will be less likely to make it on their own at this point anyway.