Catch and Release Fishing Best Practices
Using catch and release fishing methods helps ensure high quality angling opportunities today, tomorrow, and in the years to come.
What is Catch and Release Fishing?
Catch and release fishing is a type of recreational fishing where anglers immediately release a fish back to the water where it was caught. It's a great conservation strategy, but simply letting a fish go does not guarantee it will live. The actions you take before, during, and after you land a fish can improve the chances of survival, keep fish populations healthy, and keep fishermen fishing.
Effective Catch and Release Techniques
Choose the Right Gear
For catch and release fishing, you need gear that reduces stress to the fish and increases the chance of survival after being released.
- Circle hooks, barbless hooks, or hooks with crimped barbs. These can increase survival rates and make hook removal easier. Some fisheries require the use of circle hooks, so be sure you know the rules and regulations before you hit the water.
- Non-stainless steel hooks. These will corrode and fall out over time if a fish or other wildlife is accidentally hooked and escapes before they can be dehooked.
- Tackle strong enough to quickly land the fish you’re targeting.
- Wet, soft knotless mesh or a rubber landing net. These cause less damage to a fish’s eyes, fins, scales, and protective mucus coating.
- Release tools such as a dehooker. These minimize handling and make it easier to release fish without removing it from the water.
Handle With Care
- Never gaff a fish you plan to release.
- Dehook the fish in the water whenever possible.
- Cut the line as close to the hook as possible if a swallowed hook can’t be easily removed.
- Keep air exposure to a minimum if you must remove a fish from the water. Less than 60 seconds is ideal.
- Handle the fish as little as possible and only with wet hands.
- Avoid touching the fish’s eyes and gills.
- Support the weight of any fish removed from the water along the length of its body. Never suspend a fish by its lip or mouth.
- Resuscitate a sluggish fish by facing it into the current until it regains strength and can swim away on its own.
Release at Depth
Fish caught in deep water can suffer from barotrauma—a build up of gases in their bodies that makes it difficult or impossible for them to swim back down. A fish caught deeper than 30 feet will generally suffer some effects. Look for the following signs of barotrauma:
- Bulging eyes
- Stomach protruding from mouth
- Bloated midsection
- Sluggish swimming
- Lifted scales
The best way to ensure a fish suffering from barotrauma survives is to release it as quickly as possible at depth. There are a variety of recompression tools you can use, including descender devices, release weights, and release baskets.
If quickly releasing a fish at depth with a descending device is not possible, venting is another option. Use established guidelines for venting, such as those found at CatchandRelease.org.