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Give Them A Break...Release With Care
By Rich Johnson

It’s not just tossing a fish back after a catch, but you have to release a fish properly if it’s going to survive! With the record breaking heat wave and scorching temperatures we’ve been faced with this Summer of 99’, it is imperative that anglers take the time to properly release the fish they catch. Ocean temperatures are already in the 77.8 degrees range as I write this article the last week of July and the bay is close to 80 degrees in some parts. As summer progresses, the warmest water of the year, usually August and September, is yet to come and we could well establish new records all the way through summer and even see ocean temperatures well above 80 degrees

USE THE RIGHT STUFF.  The most important thing to remember is to get the fish to the boat as quickly as possible. I enjoy a good battle with any gamefish and who doesn’t? Plying one’s skills against the quarry’s need to escape tests even the most experienced angler. There are times however, when enough is enough, particularly when inshore waters are either too warm or too cold. Warm water holds much less oxygen than cooler or cold water and putting fish through exhausting, prolonged give & tackle struggles on very light line can leave a fish too fatigued to be properly revived. Use the right stuff by stepping up your tackle a notch or two and play your catch with the same enthusiasm, but quickly! Get the fish boat side promptly.

AVOID THE NET! Landing nets can cause damage to eyes and the external mucous covering the fish’s body. This external mucous is the prime defense against disease. Landing nets may increase the time it takes to release a fish. As fish roll in a net tangling line and hooks, this increases the length time a fish is out of water before its release. Land fish by hand whenever possible. If you’re going to use your hands, wet them first. You can use cotton gloves, but wet these first too.

GET A HANDLE. Using what nature gives them makes handling fish easier. If your catch has a built in handle, then use it. Billfish can be controlled by the bill while hard forked tails of jacks; tuna and bonito are grabbed easily by their tails. If there’s no natural handle and the mouth of a fish presents no danger then grab the fish by the bottom jaw. Otherwise put a hand under the belly and grab the tail if possible. The best tool I’ve seen for gripping a fish is the Lipper. This pistol, gripped tool allows you to control a fish by its jaw (even a bluefish) and never touch the slime and you don’t have to take the fish out of the water! To see a catalogue for the Lipper, call toll free at 800-450-2930.

QUICK SHOTS. Make sure the camera is ready and film is loaded before boating the fish. Nothing puts more stress on a fish than “sunbathing” on the deck, waiting for a slow poke to ready a camera. When the camera is ready, then lift the fish from the water and snap the shots you need and release the fish immediately.

THE ROLL OVER. If you bring your catch on deck, roll it over. This has a quieting effect on most fish. You can further relax a fish by placing a wet towel over the eyes. This quickly helps calm your catch, decreasing release time! A fish flopping and bouncing on the deck may cause internal injuries to itself.

GET HELP WITH THE HOOK. Make sure you have pliers handy. Be firm yet gentle when removing the hook. There are products designed to help you with imbedded hooks and hook-out removers on the market today. However, the best overall device for this job is not a hook removing tool, but a barbless hook. If you have no barb, you have no problems! Fish can be removed and released quickly without removing fish from the water!

LEAVE THE HOOK. If you think removing a hook is going to injure or kill a fish, leave it in. Don’t kill a fish to save a 50-cent hook! Cut the line as close to the hook as possible. The acids in the stomach will dissolve it with the help of saltwater. Don’t use stainless steel hooks, they last too long. Stay with the bronzed or cadmium hooks and don’t leave treble hooks from lures in the mouth of a fish!

TIME TO REVIVE. Spend whatever time it takes to properly revive a fish. The time and effort you’ve taken up to this point is wasted, if you don’t give the fish ample time to recuperate. Picture running a 4-minute mile, then someone sticks your head under water and tells you hold your breath. This is what a fish goes through after a fight at the end of a line.

Gently move the fish back and forth, flushing water through its gills. When the time comes to release the fish, you’ll know. The fish will want to swim out of your hands. For fish that are extremely tired, use the boat’s motor or trolling motor to run the boat, giving the same oxygen rich water a chance to flush over the gills. Holding the fish’s head into the current should there be one also works. Finally, when the fish is ready to swim away on its own, tap the fish where tail meets body. This simulates the area where predators often strike and stimulates the fish’s escape reflexes. This will tell you if the fish can really swim with speed and strength or it needs more time to gather itself. Practice catch & release, it works!


Copyright May 6, 1995-2020 The Fishing Line

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