There is a lot of information about fly rods, tippets, leaders, fly reels, fly lines, and flies, but little info on what to do when you catch & release a fish so it can survive for another adventure. Over the years I have tried to practice good fishing etiquette, so that fish I have been fortunate enough to have caught have a high probability of surviving the consequences of a “hook” from an artificial fly, insect or nymph.
My intent is to improve the survival rate of a fish that may die from wounding by a hook or stress from rough or excessive handling by me. I am sure over the years of my learning process there were fish that did not survive long term, so I would like to take the time and help others with useful information.
This is not a discussion regarding the correct fly size, but rather just about the hook size to which a fly is attached. As a general statement, the size number of a hook gets bigger as the hook itself gets smaller. A size 4 hook is a good large size hook and a size 24 hook is very small. Hooks come in all sizes from very small to large and there are also single and multi-hooks with barbs. Then there is the barbless hook that is created by crushing the barb of a single hook with a needle nose pliers on smaller hooks and filing off the barb on a larger hook. Common sense tells you that the single barbless hook would be the easiest use to and would create less harm to the fish. The smaller barbless single hook creates a smaller puncture wound and I have found it to be the most appropriate hook to use.
When catching a fish by its lip, jaw or inside of the mouth, the barbless hook is more easily released, and many times releases with just a gentle wiggle and it shakes free of the fish. If the hook is not readily releasing, use needle nose pliers to grasp the hook; then twist the pliers and it will release. If the hook is swallowed using live bait and is deeply in the gut and is not releasing, cut the line and leave the hook. Over time, it will slowly deteriorate. The fish has a better chance of survival by letting the hook in place than creating damage by forced removal.
Improper, rough or excessive handling can stress fish and is a factor relating to improving the survival rate of fish. It starts with first hooking the fish and retrieving them as soon as practically possible. The longer the fight, the higher the stress. The use of a net to either bring to land or on board a watercraft creates stress. In addition, the rim of the net (either metal or wood) may create a wound by the fish flaying around getting into the net, and the traditional twine mesh net may cause a wound by abrasion. If a net is a must, use a net made of neoprene or rubber.
Before touching the fish to remove the hook, wet your hands to protect the fish’s protective mucous. Slip the fish back into the water. If the fish is seeming sluggish when placed back into the water, slowly move the fish in a head first, back and forth motion to get water through the gills or face the fish toward flowing water to force water through its gills. The conditions in taking pictures with your fish create stress. Holding fish with pressure or squeezing to control its motion and excessive time out of water creates a lot of stress.
The Do’s and Don’ts
- Use Barbless Hooks
- Use Artificial Flies
- Use Wet Hands when handling fish
- Use Needle Nose Pliers or similar tool to remove hook if required
- Use Gentle Release/slip back into the water
- Use experience in getting fish back in water/ASAP
- Do not waste time or take a long time to retrieve fish
- Do not net fish
- Do not bring fish onto land or into watercraft
- Do not excessively handle fish
- Do not squeeze fish
- Do not hold by gills
- Do not forcibly remove the hook