It's important for our fisheries that our catches get handled with care and released healthy.
There are some things you can do to minimize the mortality rate of the fish you catch. In this blog post, we'll talk about how to safely revive and release a fish.
Handling Your Catch Properly
When you handle a fish, it's important to remember that their natural position in the water is horizontal. That's what they're used to. They're not vertical with their nose up, and they're not vertical with their nose down. And that's the way they should be treated when you catch them.
When you're swimming, and you dive down deep in the water, you can notice that the pressure on your body and in your ears. That pressure is what supports the fish's body. And when it's out of the water, there's no pressure like there is underwater. And to compound that, there's the gravity that's natural to us, but not for the fish. So it's organs are now being pulled down. It's a totally different environment for the fish.
When you do lift a fish up out of the water, it's best to hold their body horizontally help support the weight of that fish because when they're out of the water they don't have anything to naturally support their weight.
You don't want to hang a fish vertically, whether by the head or tail. When you do that it's not their normal body position and they'll be without support from water weight - which can cause internal injuries. You might see them swim fine after hanging but later die because of damage sustained by their organs due to being lifted vertically.
And if you hang a fish by its mouth or jaw you could do damage to their jaw. Also don't hold the fish by the gill plate or the gills because the injuries that can be sustained from can be fatal.
Bones in the narrow section of the tail can be broken when holding a fish by the tail. This can hinder their ability to swim, and that's never a good thing for a fish. You can turn it into food for a larger fish if it can't swim properly.
And it may be obvious to say, but take caution to not drop the fish. This can cause trauma to their internal organs, and you may not be able to see any damage, but after it swims away it can often die if it's dropped and flops around on the ground.
Remove The Hook Properly
The first step is to determine how the fish is hooked. If the fish attacked the lure and swallowed the hook so that it's hooked in the gut or gills, it will likely die before you can get it to shore. In these cases, cut the line as close to the hook as you can, and release the fish with the hook still in it, if you can. Trying to remove a hook that a fish has swallowed is a sure way to injure or kill the fish.
Instead, the hope if that the fish is hooked in the fleshy part of the fish's mouth. This will minimize the damage to the fish and give you a better chance of reviving it.
When you're fighting a fish, remember that the fish is trying to get away and is using all its energy to do so. The fish can become exhausted pretty quickly when you're reeling it in. They're just not used to fight like they do when they're being reeled in. So it's important, if you can, to take your time and reel the fish in at a steady pace.
Once you've got the fish to the shore or to the boat, it's important to revive it as quickly as possible. If possible, unhook the fish and release it while it's still in the water. You can use a net to corral the fish and hold it while you're removing the hook. In a perfect world, it would be best to never actually take the fish out of the water when removing the hook.
And if you're in a kayak, it's pretty easy to keep the fish in the water while releasing it.
It may be easier to do if you're in a trout stream catching a 15 inch rainbow as opposed to 20 miles out in the gulf catching a big swordfish. We get it, every situation is a bit different. If you're fishing in a river or stream, simply holding the fish in the water will often be enough to revive it. However, if you're fishing in a lake or pond, you may need to do some manual work to help get the fish before releasing it.
You can gently hold the fish and move it back and forth through the water to help revive it. Alternatively, you can place it in a live well or bucket that contains an aerator to keep it oxygenated.
Once the fish has revived and is showing signs of movement, gently nudge it forward and release it back into its natural habitat. A lot of times the fish will just take off once it's revived, which is a good thing.
Another important thing you really need to also consider when you are releasing fish is water temperature. When you're fishing in the middle of the summer in warmer water temperature, it's going to take a lot longer to revive those fish properly. They can get exhausted very quickly. It's like going jogging on a hot day, you're going to get tired much faster, and it's going to take you longer to recover. Same thing with a fish. There's less oxygen in warmer water so it's going to take longer for those fish to recover, as opposed to cooler water which has a lot more oxygen. Those fish can recover a lot more quickly.
Don't "Chuck" The Fish Back
One thing we hate to see is an angler who takes the fish off the hook and just chucks the fish back into the water. Have you ever done a belly flop into a pool? Remember how it hurts? It's the same for the fish. They're not used to hitting the surface of the water, especially if they hit flat on their side. You can actually do damage to the fish's internal organs by throwing it into the water.
Instead, just lower the fish into the water and release it so it can swim away naturally. This minimizes the trauma the fish has to go through as a result of being hooked.
Properly Reviving and Releasing A Fish: The Last Cast
By following these simple steps, you can ensure that the fish you release are healthy and have a good chance of survival. Next time you're out on the water, remember: catch and release responsibly.
Releasing them back into the wild safe and healthy will give someone else the enjoyment of perhaps catching that fish again, not to mention keep that fish alive to make more fish.
Cheers to the outdoors,