It’s part of the code of responsible angling: treat fish as gently as possible. This holds paramount for those you plan to release. Here are some simple guidelines for proper catch-and-release fishing practices to release your fish stress-free.

Catch-and-release fishing

By Marcus Weiner

1) Land the fish as quickly as possible and keep it in the water. This starts by using rods, reels, line and hooks that are at least matched to the size of the fish. Preferably, when catch-and-release fishing, go larger. The longer you fight a fish, the more stress you are subjecting it to. More lactic acid builds up in its tissues and mortality rates increase. If you must take a picture of the fish, then keep it in the water until you are ready for the photo and quickly get the fish back in the water. Never drag a fish you plan to release up onto the bank. Also, in many areas of Alaska, and for a few species statewide, it is illegal to remove a fish that you plan to release from the water. In that case, hold it in the water until the photographer is ready, raise the fish slightly, still keeping its body mostly submerged, snap away and then release.

2) Never place your hands under the fish’s gill covers or touch the gills in any way. The gills are very delicate and easily broken. Damage will make it more difficult for the fish to breathe and often results in bleeding and eventual death. I’m disgusted by the television shows where anglers pick a fish up by its gill plate to pose it in front of the camera, before pitching the fish back into the drink.

3) Use a net where the net mesh won’t get into the fish’s gills. Many of the nets on the market today are made from a more pliable net material or rubber and don’t get into the fish’s gills. Many of my older nets would entangle the fish.

4) Use barbless hooks, as they are much easier to remove from fish and inflict less damage.

5) When removing a hook, hold the fish gently and use needle-nose pliers or hemostats to grasp the hook. The less you touch the fish, the better. A fish’s slime is its primary defense against disease and infection, as well as a barrier against loss of electrolytes and fluids. Using a pair of pliers will allow you to grasp the hook firmly for removal. I’ve also used a hook-removal tool, which allows removal of the hook while the fish is in the water without touching the fish. Check out a good example here:

6) If removing the hook will cause significant damage to the fish, cut the line and leave the hook in the fish.

7) During release, hold the fish so it is facing upstream and cradle it until it swims out of your hands. A fish has a much better chance of survival when it has recovered from the fight and is strong enough to swim out of your hands. Holding a fish facing into the current, and perhaps moving it gently forward and back, helps fresh water rush through the gills, speeding the rejuvenation process.

Follow these easy steps and you will help preserve fish stocks. And share with others, especially those you know that regularly break these rules.