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Best Catch and Release Practices

Catch and release is not just a technique; it's an ethical approach to fishing that prioritizes the well-being of fish and their habitats. By respecting size limits, handling fish with care, and using appropriate gear, anglers can ensure that released fish survive and thrive. In this guide, we'll delve into best practices for catch and release, sharing insights into the refinement and standardization of these practices.

Wet release of a tarpon. Courtesy of 239 Flies.

Wet release of a tarpon. Courtesy of 239 Flies.

This article covers:

The beginning of catch and release

It's crucial to remember that our actions have a direct impact on our aquatic ecosystems. Catch and release aligns with fishing conservation efforts — allowing us to enjoy fishing while also supporting healthy, thriving fish populations for generations to come. 

Catch and release began gaining momentum as early as the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1952 that the government got involved. In an attempt to reduce costs involved with stocking hatchery-raised trout, the state of Michigan implemented “no-kill” zones that anglers willingly abided by. The evolution of catch and release was not an overnight process, but rather a gradual shift in angling ethics.

Preparing for a successful catch and release

When it comes to catch and release, being prepared means more than just having a good time fishing. It means taking care of the fish and their home.

Using the right gear and tackle

One of the most important things when it comes to catch and release is using the right gear and tackle. You don’t want to overstress the fish and potentially kill it by using the wrong rod and reel pairing — forcing the fish to put up a greater and unnecessary fight. Utilizing the right pound-test line will help to reduce stress on the fish and ensure an exciting and safe catch. Hooks and hook removal are another essential element of catch and release that we’ll dive into greater depth here:

Catch and release hooks: These hooks are designed to be less harmful to fish. Regular hooks with barbs can cause serious damage, making it harder for fish to recover after they're released. Using barbless hooks or flattening the barbs on your existing hooks can make it easier to remove them.

Hook removal tools: Having needle-nose pliers or a hook remover nearby can help you safely take out the hook from the fish's mouth.

Understanding regulations and size limits

Wherever you’re fishing, there are regulations in place to protect and sustain those fisheries. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to staying on top of your local regulations:

Fishing regulations: Make sure you know what the local catch limits are, as well as any size restrictions or seasonal guidelines. These rules are in place to help maintain healthy fish populations and keep our ecosystems balanced. Before you go fishing, look up regulations in the area you’re fishing to ensure you stay within the state or local limitations. 

Size limits: Understanding which fish you should keep and which ones you should release is crucial. Letting small or young fish go gives them a chance to grow and reproduce, which helps keep the population strong — and gives future anglers a chance for an even bigger fish.

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Proper techniques for handling fish with care

In the world of catch and release, knowing how to handle your catch is crucial. Think of it as a dance, where every move counts towards a successful release. Equipped with a sense of preparation and respect, you can ensure that the fish live to swim another day.

Minimize handling time

One of the best practices when it comes to catch and release is to minimize handling time. The less time a fish spends out of water, the higher its chances of survival. Just imagine holding your breath underwater - that's what a fish goes through when it's out of its natural habitat. Here are some tips to minimize handling time:

Use wet hands or gloves: Wetting your hands before touching the fish reduces the removal of their protective slime coating which wards off disease and infection.

Handle with care: Be gentle when handling the fish, avoiding any unnecessary squeezing or gripping.

Proper support for the fish's body

Always hold the fish horizontally rather than vertically. The internal organs of fish are not adapted to withstand gravity in our world above water. Holding them vertically can cause undue stress and potential injury.

Catch and Release bonefish.jpeg
Wet hand catch and release of bonefish in Key Largo, Florida. Courtesy of Bone Collector Kayak Fishing.

For larger species, like barracudas or tarpon, extra care should be taken while handling due to their size and weight.

On the other hand, if you're fortunate enough to encounter the fastest swimmers in the ocean such as marlins or sailfish, you'll need different techniques due to their unique body structure. For these larger species, leave them in the water to prevent their body from collapsing or suffering internal damage due to gravity. 

Utilizing a net

A well-designed landing net can reduce the risk of injury for bigger fish. The soft, knotless mesh minimizes harm to the fish's skin, scales, and fins. Landing nets specifically designed for catch and release have flat bottoms and are made with rubber or rubber-coated nylon. However, improper use of landing nets can lead to harm. To prevent harm, avoid lifting the fish out of the water using the net alone as this can cause unnecessary stress and potential damage. Instead, cradle the fish in your other hand while using the net for support.

Keeping fish in the water

When it comes to releasing fish, ensuring their survival is paramount. One effective method for ensuring survival after catching is by performing wet releases, where the fish is kept submerged in water during the release process. This approach is favored by many anglers because it reduces stress and potential damage to the fish, allowing them to recover more quickly. 

Performing a wet release involves carefully removing the hook while the fish remains underwater. This technique requires skill and experience to execute properly, but it greatly benefits the fish's well-being. While some may argue that struggling fish underwater could cause harm, proper handling techniques can mitigate this risk.

Ultimately, the goal of catch and release fishing is to minimize harm and stress to the fish. While wet releases may not always be feasible or necessary, understanding their benefits and practicing proper techniques can greatly improve the survival rates of released fish. 

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Keeping a tarpon in the waters of Bonita Springs, Florida. Courtesy of 239 Flies.

Adapting to different species and environments

When you practice catch and release on your next angling adventure, it's important to understand that there isn't a single approach that works for all fish. Each fish species is unique, and they live in different habitats, which means you need to adjust your fish-releasing methods accordingly.

Understanding different fish species

Let's take striped bass as an example. These strong fighters require a specific way of handling them to ensure they survive after being released. When you hold a striped bass, make sure to support its weight horizontally instead of vertically. This prevents any unnecessary pressure on its internal organs, increasing its chances of survival.

Considering the habitat

The environment where you catch a fish also affects how you should release it back into the water. In shallow waters, be careful when releasing fish to avoid shocking them with sudden changes in water pressure or temperature. In colder waters, you might need to spend extra time reviving a fish before releasing it by gently moving water over its gills.

Catch and release fishing near me

If you're passionate about catch and release fishing and want to ensure you're practicing it with the best techniques, finding the right guide can make all the difference. AnyCreek's nationwide network of veteran guides specializes in providing you with the best possible fishing experience possible. Book a trip today with AnyCreek to find the tailored catch and release fishing experience you always wanted.

To learn more about ways to preserve our fisheries, check out AnyCreek’s “Conserve on 7” initiative.

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