Author: Patrick Reif ….
Partially Edited by: PawPaw Reese ….
The majority of us here consider ourselves to be catch and release anglers, but are we? Once we’ve yanked a fish from its natural environment and brought it to ours, we’ve introduced potentially life threatening stress and injury to the fish, but there are some extremely simple techniques to reduce the harm we’ve inadvertently inflicted.
The most common threat with some baits is gut hooking. When someone is just trying to learn a bait, I encourage de-barbing the hooks by mashing the barb down with pliers. This helps with super fast hook removal and reduces the stress on the fish after taking one to the back of the throat.
I promise you that you’ll lose no fish with de-barbed hooks if you keep steady pressure on the fish.
Here’s a link to deep hook removal by going through the gills to turn the hook out. I suggest mashing the barb down before trying though. It slides out much easier.
Cutting the hook with wire cutters and threading the hook through the gullet is another method. This is one of the best hook cutters I know of, but you should order the replacement blades when you order the cutter.
Though these may be treatments for gut hooking, they’re not a cure. The best treatment is the one that helps avoiding these situations entirely. By that I mean pay attention to what you’re doing and stay in contact with the bait.
Keep this in mind; Inattentiveness kills fish. By taking your mind off of the task at hand, you’re opening a window that could leave a fish floating. We’ve all done it, and we’ve all killed our share of fish because of it, but it’s so avoidable.
Paying attention to what we’re doing will decrease fish mortality. That’s a simple fact, and it’s one we all need to remember before every cast.
Look at the links above and learn them. This does save fish.
Make sure your rods, reels, line and hooks are up to the job.
I’m not going to tell you how to enjoy your outdoor experiences, but keep this in mind; There is a direct connection to the length of time a fish fights and their chances of survival. When fish have prolonged battles in warm(low oxygenated) water, there is a real chance of lactic acid build up in the muscles.
I’ve read about the complications of lactic acid on both fronts. Some say it’s lethal, some say it’s not. I look at it like this, a fish that is spent from a prolonged battle is weak. In the river a weak fish is a likely target for a bigger fish. Yes, a 30lbs cat or a 25lbs muskie will look at a strained 1-3lbs smallmouth as a satisfying meal…it happens daily in waters near you…promise.
That’s why I choose rods with a medium/medium heavy action for bass. I see no benefit with going ultralight if the goal is catch and release. I want my fish to come to hand quickly, eliminating prolonged, tiresome battles and be able to elude predation afterwards.
Because of sensitivity issues, I suggest the best rod you can buy. I really like Loomis, but St. Croix, Shimano, Kistler, Powell, and many of the big chain store brands higher end rods will offer exceptional sensitivity with a very decent price. Buy the very best rod you can afford, but I suggest an heavier action when applicable .
I prefer braided lines because of the sensitivity. It’s drastically reduced my numbers of gut hooked fish by telegraphing the lightest bites to my rod, but it comes with another advantage as well. Because of the strength/ line diameter ratio, I have the advantages of 20lbs test line strength in a 6lbs diameter line. I can have higher line capacity, longer casting abilities, and I can literally horse those fish in and that reduces the time the fish has to fight, thus leaving them fresher for the day they still have left in front of them after the release.
Hooks have a definite part in CNR. A thin wire hook drives home faster, makes a smaller hole when piercing the flesh, and is less trouble to cut when a fish swallows the bait .
You want the hook set as quickly as possible. Keep this in mind, the less time the hook spends in a fishes jaw or flesh equals a lesser wound to the fish overall.
They tug hard, they fight hard, they think they’re fighting for they’re lives. When they fight, they tear a greater hole in their own flesh. They don’t have the same pain receptors we do, but could suffer the same results from the wound as we would if it was in our own flesh.
LANDING THE FISH
It happened…I caught it…SWEET!!!
What’s next? I’ll tell you.
The fish has come to the side of your boat. She’s here, let’s be ready mentally.
I want my thumb to get in her jaw as fast as possible. She’s given me her best, it’s time for me to do the same.
I prefer taking the hook out with the fish still submerged just below the surface so she’s never required to breath my air.
The scenario I use goes like this; I just ran a 500 yard sprint. I’m out of breath and someone wants to hold my head under water for 4 minutes…that would definitely suck with big loud slurping sounds.
We do the same thing to the fish if we keep them exposed to dry oxygen after the fight. They have to have water to process oxygen after the fight. THEY HAVE TO HAVE IT!!!!
Don’t bring them out of the water to remove the hook if it can be avoided.
If the hook is a bit deep, and you have to remove them, make it quick and treat them properly. Sacrifice the lure, not the fish.
Cut the hook if needed.
Have the right tools for the job and have them handy. These fish deserve your best. Have your pliers ready. Have your hook cutters ready. Have your hemostats ready. It all has to be there, and it all has to be ready.
HANDLING THE FISH
Okay, we made a great cast, got a bite, set the hook, and are now handling it. What’s next? Glad you asked…definitely glad you asked. I’m gonna try to play pretty here. THIS IS A SORE POINT WITH ME THOUGH!!!!!!! I HATE TO SEE THIS!!!!!!!!
A fishes jaw in nothing but a hinge. It’s made of thin bone, muscle, flesh, tendons, and ligaments. Nothing else. These are natural products that can and will fail. Hinges fail…they are mechanical in nature after all.
We have to treat these fish properly.
We have to recognize physical limitations of the jaw for bass. Without the jaw, they die.
LIFTING THE FISH
We have to pay attention to the limitations of a basses jaw.
The jaw can only open so wide.. after that, they strain or break.
This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s so key to our goal of a proper release with a higher percentage of fish survival.
Don’t jack the fishes jaw. They have only one way to eat. They have only one way to catch food in order to survive. They have only one way to live guys.
LOOK AFTER THAT VITAL LINK FOR THESE FISH!!! They have to have it. It is essential for them to live.
LIFT WITH BOTH HANDS.
The jaw has to be protected. PERIOD!!
That is the fishes vital link to survival.
LOOK AFTER IT!!!!!!!!!!!
There is only a small percentage of over extension a basses jaw will accommodate, after that it’s an injury. An injury WILL LEAD TO DEATH if the fish can’t recuperate in short order.
They have to eat in order to replace the caloric expenditures that chasing your lure equates…that’s a must.
Support the belly of a fish if you have to lift it.
Don’t stress the jaw!!!!!!!!!!
PHOTOGRAPHING THE FISH
I have a simple rule for taking pictures on the river. It has to be a good fish. That’s it.
I don’t need a picture of every fish landed. I’m sure you’ll believe me if I tell you I caught six fish yesterday with the biggest being 14″ even though I don’t have a pic to prove it.
We all have to make our own call on this, but the principles of proper lifting with both hands should be remembered.
I know that this sounded redundant and remedial, but that’s all proper handling really is. It’s so simple that it’s almost boring. However, a good release is more vital than a good catch if CNR is your goal.
My name is Patrick Reif, and I’m a catch and release angler.