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Hooked on Fish - Hooked on Fishing

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   Home      Conservation      Catch & Release Guide
 
       Catch and release fishing
 
We've all worried about our fish dying after being released and grimacing every time we think they have swum away strongly after being handled, shocked, burned and lobbed back into the water. Thinking it may swim away, but it will probably die. Here are some pointers as how best to release fish to maximise their chances of survival.
  1. Upon catching, the fish will be highly stressed, muscle tissue will be lacking oxygen and will very have high levels of lactic acid build-up, known as lactic acidosis,  and that lactic acid eventually finds its way into the bloodstream. You know this happens in human muscle tissue giving the feeling of pain and heaviness in muscles during exercise.The pH, or measurement of the blood's alkalinity, drops because of the addition of the acid. Once the blood's pH is disrupted, it can mean curtains for the fish.
  2. Fish bodies are constantly supported by water, supporting around a third of their weight (just imagine you are 15st, and suddenly you become 20st). Lifting big fish from this supportive environment may very well cause muscle, cartilage and other tissue damage. As for holding them by the gill plate for a photo...just think of the stress in that area and on the backbone.
  3. Fish in the main are cold blooded creatures, their temperature is rarely more than 1 degree centigrade above ambient water temperature, the exception in our water being sharks. When the water temperature is say 10 degrees centigrade and warm human hand of around 36 degrees centigrade picks up a fish you are likely to burn it and also remove the protein jelly (slime) that covers the fish skin, which helps to reduce friction through the water and vitally, to help protect the fish from disease pathogens.
      Key points
 
So, how do you release fish to live and fight another day.  Here are some key points, including keeping takers fresh for eating
  1. Fish with barb-less hooks, flattening the barb with long nose piers or similar still leaves a little bump which helps keep the fish on during battle and also greatly facilitates the release of the fish as quickly as possible. Also helpful if you are unfortunate to hook yourself.

  2. Try not to handle the fish at all, a flick of the wrist while the fish is in the water will easily release a de-barbed hook, if you must handle it, then use a wet towel (bar towels are great for this) and minimum contact.

  3. Try not to take the fish out of the water, and if you have to use a net, make sure it is of the knot-less type of mesh.

  4. If you have taken the fish from the water for whatever reason, hold it gently in the water by the caudal section (tail) again with a wet cloth to allow time for the lactic acid to disperse and for oxygen to return to unusable muscles, then release.

      Hold the Fish Horizontally

You can use your metal claw – that's fine, but don't hang the fish to weigh it. Put one hand underneath the gills, or use your claw to hold its head. When catching and releasing a 150lb tarpon, we grab them with hard and stiff grips by the top lip. It's a shelf directly connected with no joints to the fish's flat skull.
 

This lovely lady was back home in the water after the angler's wet hands allowed her to swim away. Do it right, and the fish hardly knows what happened to it ten minutes after the release. Do it wrong, hang her twenty-five pounds by the head, for example, and you can do serious internal damage, including tearing the muscles in their throat. They die, and people who hate our sport have one more thing to point out about how cruel we are. 
 
 
 
 
   
      Hooked a fish
 
Catch-and-release anglers put fish back without a guilty  conscience. They're skilled at landing and handling the fish and can remove the hook quickly, the fish's blood and well being will most likely go back to normal and everyone is happy. But if it takes too long to land the catch, then the fish could die, as much as three days later, from the imbalance in the blood. It's all about time. An experienced catch-and-release angler tries to get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible to prevent this from happening.
 
Another reason a fish can get injured is from the hook. Ideally, the fish is hooked in the mouth, usually called shallow hooking. Shallow hooking also includes the cheek and jaw. Deep hooking refers to a fish being hung on its belly, through the gills or deep into the throat near internal organs. Hooking the gills and stomach area is likely to kill the fish. Deep sea fish can also have trouble in surface pressure, just like a scuba diver does.

The quest to become a responsible catch and release angler starts with the kind of tackle used. There are two ways to attract a fish. One is with bait, and the other is with a lure.

Bait can be anything from a worm to a live bait fish. Lures come in all shapes and sizes, but they usually look like a small fish and have multiple hooks. Some bass lures don't look like fish, but simulate attractive movement with shiny spinning metal spoons. Bait is more likely to cause a gill or stomach hook, which is not so good.
 
Treble hooks, which have three prongs, are more likely to puncture and wound the fish as well. Many lures come with treble hooks, but you can replace them with single hooks. They even get through the water easier that way. Fly anglers use tiny artificial flies made by hand that have similarly low mortality rates.
 
There two basic types of single-pronged hook, J-hooks and circle hooks. J-hooks look like a letter 'J.' Circle hooks have a similar shape, but the bottom of the 'J' is typically wider, and the point comes around more toward the stem instead of straight up. Using circle hooks is less likely to result in deep hooking. For each, there is also the option for tiny metal barbs along the metal. Barbed hooks are tougher to get from a fish's mouth.
 
You can speed up the time it takes to remove a hook by only using barbless hooks or crimping the barbs with some pliers. It's also important to buy hooks that are appropriately sized for the fish you're trying to catch. If the hook is too large it can do more damage. A strong line also helps to get the fish in quickly.
 
So you've got your barbless circle hook, and you're using a lure instead of bait. The fish hits your line, and it's time to land it. Bring the fish in quickly and efficiently using a steady and deliberate technique. You should never pull the fish from the water using the line. You need to man up and do it with your hands or a net. If you use a net, use one made of knot-less cotton mesh or rubber that's less likely to harm the slime layer. Some anglers don't advocate the use of a net at all.
 
      Say Cheese!
 
Photographing your catch is a good way to show off your skills, but for the sake of the fish, you've got to do it quick. Make sure your photographer has the camera ready and pre-focused. Until then keep the fish wet and calm. Crouch down close to the water and carefully hold the fish with two hands, supporting it under the belly and firmly by the tail. Wait a second for the fish to become accustomed to your grasp and then carefully lift it less than a foot from the water. Flash your pearly whites, take the picture immediately and return the fish gently back to the water.
 
      Do Not Hang the Fish by it's Neck
 
For good catch and release you also need to be aware of what not to do. Do not grab a fish somewhere around its head and lift it vertically into the air. Think about it. It's cruel beyond any conscious creature's belief system to think it has to feel good to grab a creature that was living in a weight and gravity free ecosystem, and suddenly make its internal organs hang vertically from a hand or claw. 
Do not pick fish up by the head, they were meant to remain horizontal.
 

 

  
      Remove the Hook Right
 
Fish caught in shallow water can injure themselves thrashing around on rocks. So, look for a deep pool nearby. Once it's time to get the hook, see if you can do it with the fish still in the water. If you need to get the fish out of the water, wet your hands and lift it, holding it firmly by the tail and supporting it gently under the belly. Avoid touching the gills or squeezing the fish.
 
Use needle-nose pliers to remove the hook. Grasp the hook by the stem and, while holding the fish in the water, twist and pull gently, backing the hook out the way it came in. Don't ever wiggle the hook or pull with too much force if it's snagged. If the fish is gut-hooked or the hook is too deep into the throat, it's best to cut the hook as close to the body as possible and leave it in there. Many times the hook will simply dissolve and get spit out. The fish has a better chance at living than if you struggle to free the hook.
 
Once the hook is out, you need to revive the fish. "Tossing a fish" back into the water should remain an expression. Never throw a fish into the water. If you're bass fishing, you can hold the fish by the lower jaw and ease it back into the water. If it's a trout or another non-bass, lower the fish head-first with both hands the same way you handled it out of the water, supporting the belly. If it's a river catch, point the fish with its head upstream in a slow current. You may need to help it out some by moving it gently back and forth to allow water to flow into the gills. The same holds true for lake fish. Once it begins to come around and tries to swim away, simply release your grasp. Larger fish may take a little longer to revive.

If you plan on catch and release fishing and you should, be prepared ahead of time. Get the proper tackle, have your pliers within easy reach and the camera ready. Fish can only live for a few minutes out of the water, but you should never even come close to using this amount of time. Try and keep the time out of the water to less than 30 seconds. Experienced catch-and-release anglers never allow the fish to leave the water at all.

      Keeping fish fresh for the table
 
If the fish is destined for the dinner table, kill it as quickly as possible. This will not only minimise its suffering, it will maximise its eating qualities. Fish that thrash and gasp themselves to death on the deck or or in the fish box may end up with bruised flesh.
 

The most effective way to kill a fish is by delivering a sharp blow across the head with a priest ( a solid wooden cosh or similar). It helps to hold the fish on a firm, flat surface, using a cloth so it doesn't slip from your hands then crack it over the head, as if you're banging a nail in with a hammer. As you might imagine, the bigger the fish, the harder and more numerous the blows required to kill. Sometimes in the frenzy of catching lots of fish, mackerel for example, it is tempting to abandon this responsibility, this should not be the case on the Club boats. You can easily kill a mackerel or similar small fish as you unhook it – by putting your thumb in its mouth, or gills, and pulling its head back to break its neck. This alternative method of dispatch works for most fish under a pound.

After you have whacked a fish and rendered it unconscious, its heart will still beat for a minute or two as the blood continues to circulate through its body. This gives you the opportunity to bleed it. There are three good reasons for doing this. 1. it ensures the fish dies quickly. 2. it empties the blood from the veins that weave through the fish's flesh. Bled fish have clean, translucent fillets, without vein tracks or dark patches of trapped blood, and both look and taste better for it. 3. to prolong, blood attracts and nurtures bacteria much faster than flesh, so draining it off means the fish can be kept fresh for longer. You need to bleed a fish while its heart is still pumping - so within a minute or less of that blow on its head. Cut its gill on both sides of the head with either a sharp blade or a pair of stout scissors. A major artery passes through the gills, who job is to pass oxygen from the water. You should see the blood start to flow from the gills almost immediately. We like to bleed our fish in an empty tray for ten minutes or so before rinsing them off and transferring them to the icebox.

To achieve optimum freshness it is best to gut the fish before they go in the icebox. If your busy catching, the gutting can wait, just so long as your fish is kept cold.

We hope this helps all anglers to better understand the reasons behind best practice of catch and release, no point releasing damaged fish if we are keen on maintaining the fish stock.