catch and release

Look, Don’t Touch: Catch and Release Done Right

Look Ma’ no hands!

Here’s a catch and release tip from the fantastic guide while we wrestled a very pretty 19-inch rainbow trout:

“Don’t touch!”

Later in the same trip we landed another, a sleek 12-inch fish with beautiful rosy cheeks. Unfortunately, this one had been mishandled one too many times. His fight made us think we had a sunfish on the

catch and release
flickr/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

line, and he had an obvious fungal infection on his sides.

I’ve seen people handling fish all my life—in person, in photos, on shows and in videos—so I had never thought this could hurt the fish. But touching fish with your bare hands puts them in serious danger, and reduces the chance they’ll survive a catch and release. The problem stems from the fish’s slimy coat, also called mucoprotein. Besides protecting the fish from disease, mucoprotein helps the fish retain electrolytes and precious bodily fluids. The protective coating can also wear down from the stress of getting landed, compounding the risk.

The good news, though: it doesn’t take much to give the fish a much better chance at surviving.

Fish with friends

Time is a factor when releasing a fish: more time means more stress, and more stress means more damage. An extra set of hands cuts that time significantly. It also makes it much easier to use the other techniques on this list.

Don’t remove from the water

It’s possible to catch and release a fish without ever removing them from the water. In fact, you don’t even have to net the fish. If the hook isn’t set too deep you can simply pull them into shallow water, get a good hold on the line to keep the fish from running, and remove the hook with forceps. This is where a friend can help a lot. Two hands can’t handle all of those tasks, but four is more than enough.

Nets: what and how to use

Rubber and cotton nets are expensive, but won’t wear on the fish as much. If you have to net the fish, if you need to handle the fish at all, handle them through the net: that way your skin doesn’t touch them. And as always, release the fish by gently lowering the edge of the net and allowing them to swim to freedom.

Wet hands

Sometimes there might not be anyway to free the hook without touching the fish. If so, wet your hands first. It creates a barrier between your hands and the fish’s protective coating, which—naturally—doesn’t dissolve in water.

Spread these tips to your friends! The fishing is better for everyone if more people practice good catch and release.

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