Let me start off with I don’t own any pets, No cat or dog. What I do have is Fish, if i could have a tank full of trout I would but that would not work out to well for them or me. So the only way I get to see them is to catch them take a picture and admire them for a very brief second. I have always loved trout and the Salmonide family are my favourite. When I started out I too made all the mistakes rookie anglers do when participating Catch and Release. So I wanted to write a little something about how to catch and release fish to help reduce the mortality rate as much as possible. I will also review some of the tools you can pick up to help as well.
When I catch a trout the last thing I want to do is mortality wound it or hurt it( beside the hook in it’s mouth). So lets start with some of the gear that is fish friendly. A little while back a member of my Facebook group (Okanagan Fishing swap n shop) asked a question about a net, that gave me an idea thinking there must be a lot of people asking these same questions. So here are some pointers…
Barbless hooks are number one on my list, this is mandatory on all rivers and streams in BC and the odd lake, but most part it is up to the angler on still waters. Barbless hooks require less time to remove, they cause less damage to the mouth and gill area of the fish. So when going to a new body of water be sure to check your regulations and find out if you need to use barbless. I have a copy of the regs in the back of my truck with my back roads map, also Ifish app lets you download a PDF file to your personal device. This is good to always have a copy on your person or in your phone. As an angler I can’t stress enough to know the regulations before fishing any body of water.
Now on to some of the gear I use, as well as some I don’t so you can see what would be best for your fishing style. First NETS; I love them, small, large they are all designed to do the same thing and that is to land the fish so your not grabbing the line or jumping around your boat chasing a fish that’s flopping out of your hands. They also give you more reach and the ability to lift a large fish easily. Nets vary in design and shape as well as material. Your basic net is cheap, made of metal and it has very sparse netting. (Like the one below.)
These nets are ok if you tend to keep your fish for table fare but if your C&R they hurt the fish as they rub off the mucus membrane and cut the fin rays on the fish.
There is also fine black netting on cheap nets, these are a little better as they don’t do as much damage directly to the fish but hooks get caught easily in them. If your trout starts flipping around in the net the hook can cause damage. I prefer rubberized and full rubber nets as they can be affordable and do little damage! (lucky strike 22.95 after tax) I have yet to have a hook get snagged in my full rubberized net. Plus they reduce the removal of mucus. Then come the big guns; full rubber and fine wood or carbon fibre, this is a personal choice but you have to admit they look soooo cool…LOL!
The full rubber nets are made from recycled commercial fishing nets. Sure the price jumps when buying them $40.00 to well over $200.00, but it is well worth the investment! The one I have is $120.00 and full rubber made with fine woods and veneers.
Now for the forceps to remove the hook once you land the fish, I recommend a nice pair of locking forceps(and a spare set for your friend…LOL) They let you lock on and remove the hook. One thing I will recommend for any one is to attach your forceps to zinngers or retractors. Once you lose a $30.00 pair of forceps you attach them to your bag from then on..lol.
Another cool tool I use when I fish small rivers or creaks with small energetic trout or bass is called a “Ketchum release” it’s a small black tool used to slide over the line, down to the hook and with a slight dip motion it pops the hook out. This way you don’t even have to touch the fish, now I would not use this tool with large fish that would need some time to recover before being released with care.
Now for a word on handling the fish or cradling it, I see many pictures of people cradling the fish wrong or laying a fish on rocks or holding them up by the gills(ouch). So I will go over how I like to hold a fish when taking pictures. Once I have a trout on my line I bring it in as quickly as I can. Now I’m not saying to make it skip across the top of the water from reeling in so fast; your rod is designed to absorb all the tugging the fish will do. If you have a big fish it will run and you’ll have to let it. Just keep in the back of your mind the longer you play the fish the more you exhaust it and the mortality rate increases. When you get it close to the boat or to shore dip the net in and scoop it up, but try to keep the fish just under the water so the net is high enough it should not be able to jump out but can still breath. I hold the net with my left and release the hook with my right. Remember to always wet your hands before touching the fish! I try my hardest never to grab the fish when releasing the hook as I have found it will just react bad to being held. Once I have the hook free and clear I ask my friend to take a picture or use my pre-set up camera to take one. I use a 10 second timer on my camera. This way I can cradle the fish in the water and just before the 10 seconds I hold the fish up for the picture. Now if its a huge fish or it just keeps flipping around I sometimes just take a picture in the net and don’t try to over do it.
Now remember never lay a fish on the shore or rocks or the floor of your boat because if it starts to flip around it could hurt it’s self. The more it flips around the more likely it will stun it’s self and may just swim off and die.
My rule of thumb is if I want a picture I try once, if the trout says NO by flipping around then its a net picture. Also if you buy a under water camera or Gopro you can do some great shots under water with no need to pick your fish up.
To Cradle the fish this is done by holding the caudal( just in front of the tail fin) and the other hand under the pectoral fin and operclum. It is very important NOT to grip or squeeze by the head or under the pectoral fins as this is where the fish’s heart is. What you want to do is just cup your hand for support not to grip it with the front hand. Very loose almost just like holding a new born baby, no pressure just support.
At the back of the fish you can hold the fish with your other hand near the Caudal. You can slightly grip the fish here as this part of the fish is bone and muscle. I never try to squeeze any where just lift and support for a brief second then back in the water.
When river fishing I like to kneel down in the water when handling and taking pictures of the fish. I just lift the fish out of the water by a couple of inch’s for the picture or try and be a little artistic and take pics of the fish in the water instead.
This may sound strange to some but I will tell people to treat your fish as you would the family pet if you are catching and releasing, with tender care! I hope this was helpful and you’ve learned a thing or two about Catch and Release fishing.
Thanks and have fun fishing!
BCFishn team member