Catch and Release

Much of the information in this “catch & release” guide comes from a brochure produced by the University of Alaska Sea Grant College Program, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fish are one of our greatest renewable resources. The popularity of catch-and-release sport fishing, which helps protect that resource, is growing along with the population of anglers. A fish that is handled gently and released quickly by a skilled angler has a good chance of surviving. By practicing catch-and-release fishing, today’s anglers preserve quality fishing for the anglers of tomorrow.

Your Gear:
Use artificial flies to catch fish you plan to release. Hook mortality in fish is much lower if they are caught with artificials rather than bait.

Choose a hook size appropriate to the size of the fish you will be catching. Too large a hook can cause excessive damage to mouth eyes; small hooks may be taken too deep. Use barbless hooks when you plan to release fish; use pliers or hemostat to pinch barbs flat.

Playing Your Fish:
Play and release your fish as quickly as possible. A fish that is played to the point of exhaustion may not survive. Use a rod and leader of sufficient strength to easily land the fish.

Landing a Fish:
Try to keep the fish submerged at all times, and in water deep enough to protect it. Do not let a fish flop in shallow water over rocks and never on dry land.

When fishing from a boat or raft, a net can reduce landing time. Nets made of knotless nylon are the least abrasive to fish.

Handling Fish:
Handle fish as little as possible, as gently as possible, and avoid removing them from the water. The longer a fish is out of water, the greater the chance that it will die. Cradle the fish gently with two hands, one supporting the belly and the other hand just ahead of and underneath the tail section. Holding a fish upside down by its tail may break its back.

Keep your fingers out of and away from the gills, which are delicate and full of blood vessels. Once a fish begins bleeding from the gills, it is likely to die.

Never squeeze a fish. Pressure on a vital organ is often fatal. Use soft, wet gloves or at least wet your hands before handling a fish. It is better to release the fish at the boat, without ever attempting to lift it out of the water. A fish can be severely injured as it is lifted or when flopping in the boat. If necessary, it is better to break your line than to needlessly wrestle with a fish.

To photograph a fish, have the camera ready and do it quickly. Get someone else to take the picture or to hold the fish. If possible, keep the fish in the water by cradling it or by keeping it in a net.

Removing the Hook:
Remove the hook quickly and gently, keeping the fish under water. Firmly grasp the hook with your fingers, or better yet, with long-nosed pliers or hemostat, and roll or back the hook out of the fish’s mouth. Most of the time it will not be necessary to touch the fish. Barbless hooks make removing the hook much easier and reduce the likelihood of injuring a fish.

When a fish is hooked deeply, never attempt to force or pull out the fly or lure. Cut the leader as close to the eye of the hook as possible and revive the fish as described. The hook will eventually rust away.

Reviving and Releasing Your Fish:
Never throw, drop or kick a fish back into the water. Cradle it well behind the gills and gently lower it into the water.

Revive a stream fish by pointing its head into the current until its gills are working and it maintains an upright position. In slow water or still water some fish might need to be revived by “walking” them for a few minutes. To walk a fish, move upstream from other anglers, cradle the fish in the water, and gently move it back and forth. As the fish recuperates, its gills will begin to work strongly.

It may take some time to revive a fish. Large fish often require more time since their struggle to escape may have left them exhausted and in shock. When the fish pulls against your hand, release it. Don’t be alarmed if the fish swims off slowly. If it takes off quickly, so much the better.

Do everything you can to help a fish swim away before you leave it.