With the popularity of sport fishing so high in North America the demand on many of our river and lake systems can not be matched by the waters’ ability to reproduce fish. Many popular rivers today have been protected with Catch and Release (C&R) regulations as a means to maintain the quality of fishery; both for the anglers of today and hopefully for the anglers of tomorrow.
Regulations put in place by the Government aren’t the only thing protecting these fisheries though, the fly fishing community in general has embraced the C&R mentality and applied it to the waters we all fish helping to ensure we all have the chance to share the same experience.
The caveat here is that C&R only works if the fish survives! There are a few simple guidelines (ethics if you would) to help improve the chance of survival for a released fish:
Playing a fish in a timely manner
Many studies have shown that the length a fish is fought has a direct impact on survival. Fighting a fish to the point of exhaustion could cause the fish to die after release.
- Use the strongest tippet possible for the conditions and species you’re after
- Learn techniques to effectively battle a fish (e.g. strategies for preventing the fish from using the current against you, etc)
- Warmer water dramatically impacts the speed at which exhaustion occurs
Using hemostats to quickly remove fly; gentle handling in the water for a quick shot before release.
Minimize the time spent handling the fish
It is important to keep the fish in the water while handling and releasing. Holding the fish out of the water is suffocating them when they are already stressed from the fight – think about running up ten flights of stairs and then putting a bag over your head (not a great thought).
- Use BARBLESS hooks! The time spent struggling to get a barbed hook out impacts the survival of the fish. Barbed hooks also have a greater chance of scarring or damaging the fish during removal. A benefit of C&R is that other anglers may catch this fish again; however, disfigurement in the fish due to hook damage would greatly impact this experience
- If you need to measure or photograph the fish – have the tools ready to go! Holding fish out of water waiting for a picture is not right.
- Have the tools to remove a hook quickly: hemostats are worth the cost when trying to get at small flies inside the mouth. Also, Dr.Slick creates some models with a hook remover built into them – just tuck your line into the loop and run it down to the hook popping it out of the fish’s mouth.
Don’t squeeze the fish hard when handling it, don’t touch its eyes, keep your hands away from the fish’s gills.
- Hold a fish gently just in front of the tail with one hand under the belly to support it for photos, etc.
Fish is held gently and remains close to / in the water
Keep the fish in the water
Fish live in the water – not on land – and as such their bodies are not made to handle contact with the ground (be it rocks, grass, sand, etc). The slime on a fish is a protective coating that guards the fish against parasites and infection. Removing the slime with sand is creating a high chance for that fish to be harmed.
- Taking photos of fish on your own can be challenging. Next time you’re faced with the task, instead of laying the fish on the ground try laying the fish in shallow water on top of your net (protecting the fish).
Using a wet C&R mesh landing net to quicken capture of fish
Use a landing net when it is of benefit
If using a net will decrease the time required to fight a fish then do so – this may be in situations where fast water makes it hard to land a fish, etc.
- Make sure the net is composed of a soft mesh
- The mesh must BE WET when capturing the fish
- Keep the fish in the water with the net
- Nets do remove slime from fish so only using them when required and not squeezing the fish with it is important
When taking photos it was mentioned to try and keep the fish in water to protect the fish. Though it is often a matter of opinion – shots with fish close or in the water appear a lot more attractive too! Knowing ahead of time how you want the photo to look (if you’re the photographer) is important. Waiting for the sun to set or setting up the perfect shot while the fish is landed isn’t a great idea – so if you’re a photographer get into position to take a shot and communicate with a buddy what you plan to do (i.e. as soon as the hook is out turn the fish towards me and smile ). It isn’t a model shoot so accept what you get and let that fish swim again! If you’re holding the fish you should keep the fish in the water and show it for only a few seconds – time enough to get the shot. If you’re having troubles controlling the fish then decide whether you really NEED the shot. If you do sometimes turning the fish on its back will relax it momentarily – otherwise let it go. You’ll get a shot with the bigger fish you would have missed spending time posing anyway…
An interesting study which provides some interesting statistics for C&R impacts on fish: