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Old 02-20-2012, 01:37 PM
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Default Practicing Proper Catch and Release

Hi...Below is an article that I wrote some time back for another forum (not FF only) about C&R. I was having a PM conversation with a moderator here this morning about how to share this kind of information and he suggested I post this here.

Please understand I'm not the "Guru of C&R" nor am I the fish police....just another fly guy. The article has C&R information in it and I stole every idea there. You may have other views about fish handling and I do NOT claim to know all there is to know...


I was fishing the “artificials only, barbless, zero limit” section of a tail water stream during the winter of 2007 and already had released a couple of nice rainbows. Working my way up river, I happened upon another fisherman who I recognized from previous trips. He’s kind of an older guy with a full white beard and he wears old Cabelas neoprene waders, so he wasn’t too hard to recognize. I don’t know his name, but we had met twice before, chatted about the river, and shared a little water.

He was the one who got us sharing water. He walked down to me that first time we met and told me there were fish in the spot he was working. He said that he couldn’t get to them. So he wanted to see if I could drift a fly through the spot and pick one up. We walked back up to a huge whirlpool with a deep run on the far side and he spotted for me while I tried to catch that drift. After a few tries, I hit it just right and when my indicator went down my new buddy let out a yell. “You did it!” Well, there are worse ways to make a friend and I always look for him when I fish this river. Here’s the fish he put me on:

Click the image to open in full size.

On this particular day we happened to park near each other, so we walked out together after a while. As is my custom, I walked over to the trash can left for fishermen at the parking area and started dumping my cache of cans, bottles, gobs of mono and other trash picked up during the day. At the same time here comes my new pal also dumping the same kind of stuff out of his pack.

You wouldn’t think much about this tale other than it’s a nice story about two fishermen who like to share water and who have some common values. What surprises some folks is that while I’m one of those elitist fly snobs, my fishing buddy is a gear guy. He pinches down the barbs on his Kastmaster spoon and fishes the zero limit section because that’s where he likes to fish. As it turns out, sportsmen are sportsmen, regardless of their preferences in what to use in pursuing their game.

There are other differences between fishermen besides their choice of tackle and methods. There are fishermen who catch and release virtually all of the fish they land. Others prefer to take their limit home for the grill or smoker where it is legal to do so. There’s nothing right or wrong about either approach as long as the regulations are followed. Both the release guy and the “catch and bonk” guy are good sportsmen as long as they follow the rules, care for the environment, and leave the water as clean or cleaner than they found it.

The thing about catch and release is that it applies to both types of fishing. Even the fisherman who takes his limit home will often release at least some of the fish that are landed. Sometimes he may just not want to limit out too early and have to stop fishing. Sometimes he may want to release smaller fish when there are lunkers to take home. Many fishermen release all the fish they believe will survive, keeping only those that are “bleeders” for the smoker. Whatever the reason, the sportsmen who release trout back to the water should have a single shared value.

Trout should be handled and released in a way that affords them the best chance for survival

No matter the species (brown, brook, rainbow, golden or cutthroat), the trout is one of the most fragile of all the freshwater fishes. A trout's needs and requirements for continued survival are some of the most demanding of any freshwater game fish and both it and its underwater habitat should be treated with respect. Like any other fish, trout possess a “slime” coating that protects them from acquiring disease and infection. Once the slime coating has been compromised, the trout is susceptible to invasion from a host of life-threatening illnesses and potentially deadly injuries. Here is a list of the top four immediate needs for optimum care of any trout:

•Get the trout to hand as soon as possible. Overplaying a trout causes a potentially catastrophic build-up of lactic acid in the muscle tissues. Lactic acid accumulation prevents the fish from swimming normally, which makes it a target for predators.
•Help protect the trout’s slime coating by not handling the fish at all, if possible. If handling is necessary for whatever reason, it should only be done after completely wetting your hands. Handling should be kept to an absolute minimum. Please, don’t grasp the trout with a towel. And never drag a fish up on the shore. This is particularly important in alkaline lakes where a heavy coating of slime is necessary to protect the fish.
•Keeping a trout out of the water is like keeping a human under water; breathing is impossible. The less time a trout stays out of the water, the better its chances for post-release survival. Lactic acid increases as a fish is deprived of oxygen when it is taken out of the water. Extreme levels of lactic acid will cause paralysis. So limit the time that a fish is out of water to a maximum of 20 seconds or so.
•Once the hook is removed from the trout’s lip, gently cradle the trout underwater facing upstream. Allow the trout a few moments to collect its’ thoughts, lose some lactic acid, and regain equilibrium. Once the trout has recovered, it will swim away from you faster than a car thief running from the cops.

While those are the four most basic items to understand, there are other considerations and “helps” for a successful release.
•If catch and release is the goal, pinching down the barbs on your hooks makes removal much easier. My personal experience is that if I keep a bend in the rod and tension on the fish, barbless hooks lose no more fish than barbed.
•The slime coating is further protected by using the newer style, rubber nets now on the market. The older nylon nets are very hard on the fish. Next time you need to pick out a net, look for one that is made for C&R.
•The use of forceps or hemostats is helpful in securing the hook and removing it without damaging the fish’s mouth.
•If a fish is hooked deeply, the best idea is to simply snip the leader close to the mouth, rather than attempting to use a disgorger or pulling the hook free.
•“Lipping” trout is very harmful, as the bones of their lips and mouth are fragile. They cannot be handled like a bass or with a Boga type tool. Holding a large trout vertically from the lower lip can damage the narrow isthmus area at the bottom of the gills. If you want to lift a fish for a picture, grasp the fish in front of the tail and under the belly to support the weight as evenly as possible.
•The best way to weigh a fish is to lift it in a net. Weight the net with the fish and then subtract the weight of the net alone.
•Avoid getting your fingers anywhere inside the gill plate. The least disturbance of the gills can kill a trout in a few hours, even though it looked fine swimming away from you.
•Trout caught while fishing deep in lakes suffer from barotrauma (the bends) when brought to the surface. These fish must be released as soon as possible in order to improve survival. If the fish appears bloated and can’t swim back down by itself, it is best to use a descender weight with a clip or barbless hook to return the fish to depth quickly. Recent studies have found that deflating trout with a needle is a bad idea.

Whether you release all the fish you land or selectively release fish to enhance your time on the water, these tips will allow for the best chance of survival for your trout. They are beautiful creatures and provide food and pleasure for us. Whenever we release them we should always do all we can to improve their survival.
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