We all know what catch and release is… It’s pretty simple, right? Sure, you catch a fish and well, you release it. But in reality, there is way more to it than that. Not every fish that you release after catching is going to swim off as if nothing happened to it. This is true during hot summer months more than ever. Dissolved oxygen levels in water are at their lowest during the summer so it is crucial to take extra care if you plan to release fish back into the water. Some of the tips I’m going to cover are no brainers while others may not get much thought.
Barbless hooks typically leave a smaller hole in a fish’s mouth while achieving better penetration for quicker hook sets. Not only does this make hook removal many times easier than barbed hooks, but you will also find that barbless hooks allow you to get fish back into the water quicker.
Make sure you use appropriately sized tippets that vary depending on the species of fish you are targeting. For instance, don’t try to catch a smallmouth bass on 5x tippet… not only are you going to have a frustrating day of replacing lost streamers, if you hook up, you will further stress the fish in an unnecessary way. Choose a tippet size that will allow you to present your fly in a natural way but will also allow you to land the fish quickly instead of fighting it near exhaustion.
Proper fish landing- always land your fish as quickly as possible. If you are fishing from a boat, try not to “boat flip” an eight-pounder and let it flop around on the carpet. If possible, always try to net the fish and keep it submerged until you can get the hook removed. If you must take the fish out of water, make sure your hands are wet before handling it. Dry hands can strip the protective slime coating that help fish fight off disease.
CPR (Catch, Photograph, Release). If you want to take a picture of your catch, try to keep the fish in the water until the last possible moment, lifting it out of the water for just a few seconds while a friend snaps a picture.
Safely releasing fish- don’t just throw fish back into the water. This can be harmful and even fatal to fish especially from the height of a boat deck or fishing pier. Instead, make sure the head of the fish is pointed upstream and gently hold it in that position until it is ready to swim off on its own. This practice will help recuperate the fish and help it swim off quicker to de-stress.
And last but not least, ALWAYS leave the stream/body of water in better condition than when you arrived. If you spend any amount of time on the water then I’m sure you’ve seen it before- empty water bottles, beer cans, orphaned flip flops, worm cups, and plastic bags can be found on the banks of many of our favorite streams. If you’re like me and always carry a net when you’re out fishing, you’ll find that it makes a great trash receptacle for the walk back to the vehicle. I’ve noticed most of the places I go to fish have a trash container in the parking lot or just a short drive down the road. Make it a goal the next time you hit the water to pick up whatever loose trash you can find on your walk back to your vehicle. It will make a great day on the creek a cleaner one next time, and it will make a not-so-great day a little better knowing you’ve done your good deed for the day!