Catch & Release and Safe Handling of Fish

For many, the concept of catch and release is foreign to them. You spend all this money on a boat, tackle, bait, gas and equipment and then you turn that yummy fish back into the water?…WHAT?!?

There is however a rapidly growing segment of the fishing community, both salt and freshwater, that is perfectly comfortable with the idea. Bass anglers and tournament organizers have lived by this ideology for many years now. I catch tons of bass from our local lakes and rivers, and it’s a rare occasion that I filet one out for dinner, but once in a while, I will.

I have no issues with harvesting fish. Species such as grouper, trigger fish, cobia, tuna or mahi are great to eat, why wouldn’t I filet a few? Laws that govern creel limits have got some people, myself included, a bit perplexed as to why some seemingly abundant fish is so tightly controlled or banned completely from harvest; trigger fish are a good example. Whether you agree with the federal and state mandated laws of harvest or not, I’m sure that most of our readers abide by such laws. This is where it becomes important to do what you can to ensure the catch you release swims free and lives to fight another day.

When fishing deep reefs and wrecks, having a venting tool, and knowing how to use it, is extremely important. When anchored up, it’s difficult to chase a floating fish once it’s thrown back so be sure to vent prior to releasing if there’s any doubt.

If, for example, you’re trolling for king mackerel with diving plugs, and you’ve got the boats limit but want to continue trolling, you can dramatically increase the survival rate of any more kings that bite by changing the treble hooks out on your lure with single barbed hooks. You can also remove additional stinger hooks from duster rigs.

Another thing to consider is the weight of your equipment. I once had a client hook into a large amberjack with fairly light tackle that was better suited for the small mahi we were targeting. After a lengthy battle, we landed the fish, but the stress on this fish was obvious; he’d given it all he had, and without the extended attention we gave to revive him, he would have surely expired. When I’m targeting big fish, I aim to make the fight as short as possible by utilizing appropriately sized rods, reels and line.

Get those pictures taken quickly! Plan ahead and have someone on board at the ready to snap some quick photos. It kills me to see videos of folks landing a fish and taking way too long to return it. During the summer months, when most fishing gets done, this is extremely important. Fish will not last long out of the water after the fight, and recovery takes even longer, if at all possible, when temperatures are high.

Every time an angler releases a fish unharmed, they help to restore valuable fisheries like red drum, trout and largemouth bass. As the number of anglers continues to grow and our resources come under increasing stress, it becomes more important than ever to release those fish that will not be harvested in the best condition we can provide. Future generation anglers will thank you for it.

~ Capt. Randy (C-note) Cnota