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Many anglers have discovered there is even more satisfaction in returning a fish to the water than there is in catching one.
By Fred Golofaro
Tags: inshore, inshore, general
ARC Dehooker ("ARC" stands for Aquatic Release conservation) manufactures a number of dehooking devices for everything from panfish to sharks and tuna. They are a great asset in helping to avoid removing fish from the water, and handling fish unnecessarily. Their Sportsman 16-inch Dehooker is ideal for unhooking short fluke, sea bass, weakfish, small stripers and cod, while the 24-inch Game Model is made for big stripers, blues and the like. The 34-inch Big Game Dehooker is designed for releasing pelagics like sharks and billfish without removing them from the water.

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. Also, if you have any intention of photographing your catch, you should have a camera within easy reach, and it should be ready to shoot. Have 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.

Anything we can do to expedite hook removal, minimize handling and get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible, improves the odds of survival. The following guidelines should go a long way in helping you practice “safe catch and release.”

The use of single hooks where applicable and always crushing the barbs of trebles can make unhooking a snap. Hook removal is amazingly easy when barbs are removed. Always use circle hooks when fishing with bait. There is no question that the use of circle hooks results in a very high percentage of lip-hooked fish and reduces mortality associated with gut-hooked fish.

Handle fish carefully. 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. There are several tools on the market that allow you to get a secure grip on the lip of the fish, eliminating any need to handle the fish. One, the Boga Grip, doubles as a scale and allows you to get a weight without any additional stress on the fish. Berkley has introduced a similar tool, sans the scale, but at considerably less money.

Most fish have to be revived when they are returned. Never throw or toss a fish back into the water. Resuscitate the fish by moving it back and forth so that water flows through its mouth and over its gills. 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, release the fish by slipping it head first into the water alongside the boat. The sudden rush of water through the fish’s gills is often enough to energize some fish. This is a tactic commonly employed with species such as false albacore, tuna and bonito.

Try to avoid fighting a fish to exhaustion, especially when you plan on releasing it. 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.

Catch and release is here to stay, and each season sees the catch and release philosophy gain new converts. 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.

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