Following these 10 tips for catch and release fishing will help to make sure our lakes stay stocked with plenty of fish for future fishing trips. It's not hard to do. However, a few things may not have occurred to you. Read on to make sure you are helping our fish and our environment.
- Use larger lures and hooks. Using the correct size hooks will help with catch and release fishing. If a hook is too small, it is more likely a fish will swallow, rather than get it impaled in its lip. Hooks in the lip are easy to remove.
- Set the hook quickly. Pay attention when fishing. The longer a fish has the bait before you set the hook, the better the chance it has to swallow the hook. Setting the hook quickly avoids this. If you find you are getting a lot of fish that swallow the hook, you may not be setting the hook soon enough.
- Use barbless hooks. Buy barbless hooks for catch and release fishing. If you can't find any, you can cut the barbs off the hooks you have. If you do not have the right cutters to do this, you can smash the barbs down with pliers. This makes them slip right out of a fish's mouth when removing them, but they will not have much effect on the number you catch.
- Don't yank the hook out. If a fish swallows your hook, don't pull on it until it comes out. It usually won't come out without damaging the fish. Reach in with long-nosed pliers and try to work it loose. If you see blood, the fish will likely die. In that case, it's better to take it home and eat it.
- Go in through the gills. If you can't get the hook out through the mouth without damaging the fish, try going in through the gill nearest the hook. You can often get a better angle on it. You may even be able to push it out, rather than pull it. You may also be able to cut the hook in half so it slides right out.
- Don't put fish on a stringer. If you want to take them home, a stringer is fine; but for catch and release fishing, don't do this. They will get stressed and die. If you want to show somebody, take a picture.
- Get fish back into water quickly. Don't keep fish out of the water for more than a minute or two. They need the water to breath. Make fast work of removing the hook, and then throw them back into the water.
- Don't let fish flop around. If you have to put the fish on the ground to remove the hook, secure it so it doesn't flop around. This can cause unrecoverable damage to the fish. That's not good for catch and release. If the fish gets dirty, move it through the water to clean it before releasing.
- Handle fish by lip. Pick the fish up by the lip between your thumb and forefinger. Putting your hands on the fish anywhere else will remove the coating the fish needs to protect it against bacteria in the water. When you release it, you can touch it down by the tail to help it recover — get its strength back — before you let it go.
- Cut the line. One of the best tips for catch and release fishing is to cut the line. If a hook looks like it is going to be tough to remove, cut the line as far into the mouth as you can. It won't take long for the hook to rust and fall out, and it won't harm the fish.
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