Guidelines for Handling and Releasing Fish
These Tips Help Fish Live to Fight Another Day
- Choose lines and equipment that will bring fish in quickly, so they don't exhaust all their energy in a prolonged battle. Use artificial lures over live bait. Fish that hit artificial baits are less likely to be hooked deeply enough to damage vital organs and have a high survival rate.
- Prepare for easy release by squeezing hook barbs flat with pliers or filing them off. Barbless hooks won't cost you fish, if you keep a tight line, and they allow you to unhook fish without causing serious wounds.
- If you use live bait, set the hook at the first sign of a bite, so the fish doesn't have time to swallow the bait. If the fish is hooked deeply in the gills or stomach where the hook cannot easily be removed, clip the line as close to the hook as possible. The hook will fall out after a time, with minimal damage to the fish.
- Release fish that you don't intend to keep or fish that are smaller than the legal length immediately and gently.
- Wet your hands and avoid handling fish excessively. Try to protect the mucous covering the fish's body because it prevents infection.
- Hold fish firmly. A fish dropped on the ground or in a boat has a poor chance for recovery.
- Grasp large-mouthed fishes by the lower jaw with thumb and forefinger; smaller fishes with your hand around the mid-section, wetting hands first. Grasp fish with teeth across the gill covers. Hold large, heavy fish horizontally, supporting the belly, to avoid damaging the muscles, vertebrae or internal organs.
- Never put your fingers in the gills or eye sockets.
- Always carry a hook disgorger or needle-nose pliers. Back the hooks out if possible.
- Never pull a hook from the fish's throat or stomach. It is better to cut the line. Many hooks will rust away.
- Release fish as soon as possible. There's time for a quick picture of a fish, but the longer the fish remains out of the water, the less its chances of surviving.
- Stressed fish can often be revived by holding them upright in the water and moving them slowly back and forth until they can swim away under their own power.
Practice Three Phases of Handling to Improve Survival Rates During Tournaments
1. Hook Removal
Avoid handling fish excessively. Hold the fish firmly by the lower jaw and gently remove the hook. Every angler should carry a hook disgorger or needlenose pliers. Never pull a hook from the fish's throat or stomach; it is better to cut the line and let the hook work itself out.
2. Live Well
The proper use of a live well is critical in any successful release program. Don't allow water to drain from the live well when moving the boat. Live wells should be aerated and have smooth inside walls. It is best to keep the water in the live well fresh and as close to the actual lake temperature as possible. Live well capacity is important. A small live well stuffed with a limit of fish is as useless as no live well at all. You should put no more than 3/4 pounds of fish per gallon of water in a well aerated live well. Most live wells can hold about 11 gallons of water plus 8 pounds of fish. For bass, this means four 2-pound fish (15 1/2 inches each).
A solution to overcrowded live wells during fishing tournaments is to measure and release all but trophy-size fish immediately. Length-weight tables can then be used to assign standard weights to all sizes of fish.
Assuming the fish has been treated properly in the live well, the weigh-in is the final and often the most critical phase affecting its survival. Fish that are held out of the water during the weigh-in or during photographic sessions have little chance of surviving after release. Fish should be kept in the live well until participants leave their boats. As fishermen leave their boats, fish can be put into round, plastic laundry baskets. A series of 50-gallon plastic garbage cans may be spaced every 10 feet up to the scales so that baskets of fish can be kept in the water right up until the actual weigh-in. The water in these cans must be kept fresh or aerated.
The use of plastic water bags to carry fish to the scales is discouraged. Although this principle works well for transporting aquarium fish home from the pet shop, it does not work well at a fish tournament. To use these unaerated bags effectively, they should contain about one gallon of fresh water for each 1/4 pound of fish, or 8 gallons of water (weighing about 65 pounds) for each 15-inch bass in the bag.
Coordinate Fish Release at Tournaments
Fish clubs should assign people to coordinate fish release. After the weigh-in, fish should be classified as releasable or non-releasable. Non-releasable are dead, weak or injured fish. It is better to keep any questionable fish as food than to waste them by returning them to the lake. A successful, well carried out release program is a credit to any fishing club.
Finally, three to five days after the release, club members should check the release area to remove any dead fish if necessary. The tournament should not be considered over until this has been done.