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7 WAYS YOU'RE DOING YOUR BEST TO MINIMIZE MORTALITY CATCHING AND RELEASING STRIPED BASS

Release properly to reduce mortality and rebuild striper stocks.
By Fred Golofaro
Tags: inshore, inshore, general

Our marine resources, and especially our fish, are far too valuable to be used just once. I heard that said many years ago. I was probably no older than 12, and I believe it was Joe Brooks who said it during a televised fishing show, but regardless, that message remains vivid in my mind. While the concept of catch and release is a good one, it is critical that it be practiced properly. The more a fish is handled and the more time that fish spends out of the water, the better the odds that fish won't fully recover.

1. MINIMIZE TIME OUT OF THE WATER - KEEP THEM IN IT WHEN POSSIBLE

Boat or the surf, time out of water is probably the most critical and should be kept to an absolute minimum. There have been several studies done that support thise. A study done on trout by Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada revealed just how damaging subjecting fish to air (time out of water) can be. Trout in an exhausted state (caught on hook and line) saw only a 28% survival rate when exposed to air for 60 seconds. The survival rate jumped to 63% in fish that were out of the water for 30 seconds, and to 88% for those not removed from the water. Some saltwater species may have a higher tolerance, but these results provide a good barometer for the importance of getting fish back into the water quickly.

2. REVIVE THE FISH

Never throw or toss a fish back into the water. Resuscitate the fish by putting its whole head into the current so that water flows through its mouth and over its gills. Support it and do not release it until the fish is able to swim free of your grasp. In the case of fishing from boats with too much freeboard to allow resuscitating a fish, plan ways to release the fish without removing it from the water and have tools ready such as a hookout.

If you have any intention of keeping a legal size fish that requires being measured, the minimum length should be marked off on your rod, the boat’s gunwale, or somewhere that is easily and quickly accessible. It translates into seconds measuring the fish, instead of what could be minutes spent searching for a tape measure.

3. USE SINGLE HOOKS & CRUSH BARBS FOR EASY RELEASE

The ideal scenario for achieving optimum catch and release mortality is to keep fish in the water when unhooking them. In saltwater fishing situations, this is possible when wading, especially in calm back bay or inlet areas, and for those fishing from small boats, or boats with low enough freeboard to allow you to reach down to the fish while it is still in the water. Single hook lures such as bucktails and jigs dressed with soft plastic baits make unhooking a snap and there is usually no need to even touch the fish. Just slide your hand down your leader, grab the head of the lure and a quick twist will usually set your catch free. Every good fisherman should have a pair of pliers on them, or within easy reach. The leverage provided by pliers, as well as the protection they provide from toothy blues, and even weakfish, make them a valuable asset in unhooking fish quickly.

4. BE READY FOR PHOTOS IF YOU TAKE THEM

Have a camera within easy reach and ready to shoot with an idea of where and how you want to shoot photos before landing a fish, and limit your photography to one or two quick shots to avoid leaving your catch gasping on the deck or sand. A growing number anglers only photograph harvested fish, opting for over the gunnel shots of released fish to keep them in the water.

5. CIRCLE HOOK BAITS

Always use circle hooks when fishing with bait. According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the
mortality rate on released stripers is 9% - that means nearly 1 of every 10 striped bass set free will die. Studies show the use of circle
hooks when bait fishing for striped bass can reduce the mortality rate by as much as 80%.

Keep the hook gap/gape (space between hook point and shank) free and clear of bait for better hooksets. When using large chunks or live baits, bridling helps ensure the circle hook works as designed.


6. SAFEST HANDLING IS NO HANDLING

There are many situations where fish can be released without removing them from the water, but if a fish has to be landed, avoid using a net when possible. Removing a fish from the net tends to increase time out of water. The netting will also remove some of the fish’s protective slime, which it needs to fend off disease and fungus infections. Netting can also cause damage to gills and fins in some cases. Obviously, fishing from some bigger boats requires netting a fish. Remove the fish from the net as quickly as possible and worry about getting your rig or lure untangled after the fish has been released.

Always avoid putting your hands into the gill area, and never insert your hand into the gills to hold up a fish. Hands should be kept free of the gill area at all times. Instead, use a thumb grip inside the fish’s lower jaw to pick a fish up. In the case of larger fish, use your other hand to help support the weight of the fish.


7. THE RIGHT TACKLE FOR QUICKER FIGHTS

Using tackle that is poorly matched to the job at hand can result in unnecessarily long fights, and an overly stressed fish. These days, even light action rods are amazingly powerful, and coupled with fine diameter braided lines that allow you to fish heavier pound test, it’s possible to pressure fish as much as you would with heavier tackle. Enjoy the fight but don’t “toy” with a fish that you plan on releasing.

There is nothing wrong with taking fish home for the dinner table – it is one of the great benefits of the fishing game. Just don’t take more than you need, and please don’t kill a fish, then when you get off the boat or beach, wonder what you are going to do with it. Also, current fishery management policies mandate that everyone practice catch and release where size or bag limits come into play. With all of these fish going back into the water, it is every angler’s responsibility to ensure that they are given every opportunity to survive. Anything we can do to expedite hook removal, minimize handling and either keep the fish in or get it back in the water as quickly as possible, improves the odds of survival.

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