Every year more and more fisherman practice the art of catch and release. I first learned about it at an Atlantic Salmon Federation dinner when I was around twelve, almost thirty years ago. Catch and Release (C&R) is important because it ensures that there are numbers of fish that can reproduce and keeps a balance in the food chain whether at the top, bottom or at a place somewhere in between.
I fished Wakely Lake (see the report) and the lake has an abundance of fish life that I have not found anywhere else yet in Michigan. The lake has very strict fishing rules that work. Although it is a pretty popular lake for fishing and gets heavy pressure, it remains a lake where there is a real chance of catching a trophy fish on every cast! That is not to say that every lake should have those same rules. To a certain extent you should be able to keep the “fruits” of your labor. Bluegills, walleyes, and perch, when pan fried are very tasty indeed! I used to fish rivers in New York state many years ago that were really “put and take” fisheries which means the state of NY would “put” them in and fisherman would “take” them out.
That presented a problem if you wanted to fish for trout after the opening weekend, as there would be very few left to catch, as hatchery raised fish tend not to be too smart when released into the wild. I also have fished Yellowstone for trout and the trout are big and smart, because Yellowstone Park has very strict rules, about fishing their resource.
Ok, you just caught a nice fish and you want to release it to fight another day. What are some things you can do to ensure that fish will be in as good shape as when you hooked it?
First let’s look at some gear you can use to increase the survival odds of the release of that fish.
Bait vs. artificial lures or flies
The fact is that the mortality potential of a fish is higher with bait when caught using a regular or traditional hook. This may change to a drop in mortality if bait fisherman used circle hooks instead of traditional bait hooks. Traditional hooks stick whenever the hook is pulled. So if a fish has swallowed a bait past its mouth then the hook is going to penetrate whereever it’s located in the fish throat.
If a bait fisherman’s line is not tight, and the strike is not detected then that hook can be set very deep and that fish generally will not survive. Circle hooks work differently in the fact that they tend to only set in the corner of the mouth even when coming up from deep in the throat, as the hook is shaped in a way so that it is harder for a deep hook up and has a higher potential for hook up in the corner of the mouth. Saltwater fisherman have discovered circle hooks and it is time for freshwater bait fisherman to start discovering them also.
Artificial baits, such as flies and lures, tend to hook fish in the mouth areas and when combined with barbless hooks, release from the fleshy areas of the fishes mouth with a simple backward push on the hook. (The added benefit of barbless is the ease of release of yourself or your partner, when you have buried a hook into your own flesh!) Artificials also have the benefit of not having to rebait after a missed strike and also without bait, you don’t find that container of worms that you left in the left pocket of your float tube, a couple of weeks later! Whew……..
Statistics show that artificial flies and lures have a lower mortality on fish in C&R studies.
Nets are a tool to control a fish so you can get a hook out without that hook ending up in you. The old nets are made with knotted nylon mesh, this mesh with knots will scar fish and scrape away the protective slime on the fish. The slime is very important as it protects the fish by creating a barrier against water born diseases. New style nets are rubberized and knotless and not as abrasive as nylon mesh. I don’t like to endorse a product in an article but here is an exception to the rule and that’s the Boga Grip. The Boga Grip allows you to control a fish without ever touching the fish at all. I can take the hook out, lift the fish for a picture and revive it, all without putting my hands on that fish.