Each summer, the New York Department of Conservation (NYDEC) issues a press release urging anglers to “take a few simple steps when planning trout and salmon trips due to the stress put on these fish during hot weather.”
DEC reminds us that during the steamy days of summer, it is important to remember that trout and salmon can experience physical stress whenever water temperatures climb above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In streams, heat-stressed fish will seek deep pockets of cold water, small feeder streams, or water released from deep reservoirs. These refuges allow trout to avoid or recover from potentially fatal levels of heat stress.
Anglers can help by avoiding catch-and-release fishing for heat-stressed trout on hot days. Trout already weakened by heat stress are at risk of death no matter how carefully they are handled. Do not disturb trout where they have gathered in unusually high numbers. It is likely these fish are recovering from heat stress in a pocket of cold water. Do your fishing early in the day since stream temperatures are at their coolest in the early morning hours.
You might also consider having an alternate plan in case water temperatures are too high at the intended destination. Consider fishing a body of water body less prone to heat stress, or even fishing for more heat-tolerant species, like small and largemouth bass.
When fishing tail waters, such as those below New York City water supply reservoirs, remember that the cooling influence of reservoir releases will not extend as far downstream during periods of intense heat. Paying attention to water temperatures and adapting your approach during hot weather can go a long way in helping to minimize heat associated mortality in the trout and salmon fisheries.
Saltwater species like striped bass, weakfish and even bluefish are not immune to heat stress and all three species, given their minimal daily bag limits (bluefish – 3, weakfish -1, striped bass -1) are largely catch and release fisheries. As a result, it is important to take extra care when releasing any of these fish, especially big striped bass where any fish over 35 inches must be returned to the water. Those big fish are especially susceptible to lactic acid buildup and may
also have difficulty returning to cooler bottom waters when caught in deep water. The deeper waters off Montauk and Block Island, and parts of Long Island Sound, will continue to produce good numbers of big stripers throughout the summer months. Most of their time is spent in water depths ranging from 40 to 70 feet or more where water temperatures can be quite a bit cooler than temperatures near the surface. Surface water temperatures in near-shore ocean waters and Long Island Sound have climbed above the 80-degree mark the past two summers.
The best approach to practicing catch and release is to not remove the fish from the water at all, and that is especially true during the dog days of summer. The less time out of water, and the less a fish is handled, is the best way to insure a healthy release. Even then, some fish might require extra time and effort to revive it. Forgoing photos and having essential tools like pliers and/or a hook remover will help expedite any release, as will the use of circle hooks when bait fishing. Non-stainless, non-offset circle hooks are in fact required when targeting striped bass with bait.