Best Way to Hold a Fish ๐Ÿ˜Ž Catch and Release Handling Tips

Discover the best way to hold a fish for catch and release with expert tips on removing the hook and increasing the fish’s likelihood of survival ๐ŸŽฃ

How to Properly Hold and Release Fish after Catching

Fishing is a beloved hobby for millions of anglers. When practicing catch and release fishing, it’s vital to handle fish carefully to ensure their survival and wellbeing after release. Learning proper fish handling techniques can greatly reduce injury and increase post-release survival rates. This guide covers best practices for holding various fish species to avoid damage and maintain healthy populations. Additionally, it emphasizes the importance of using barbless hooks, handling fish with wet hands, and minimizing air exposure. Proper fish handling not only promotes responsible angling but also contributes to the long-term conservation of aquatic ecosystems and their inhabitants.

Keep Fish Horizontal to Avoid Organ Damage

One of the most critical rules is to always hold fish horizontally, supporting the weight evenly across the body. Holding fish vertically can displace organs and injure the spine, often causing mortality.

To properly hold a fish, slide one hand under the belly to grasp the pectoral fins and support the weight. Use your other hand to gently control the head. Keep the fish level in a straight line from head to tail, avoiding sharp angles.

Way to hold larger fish: use two hands to brace the underside while controlling the head. This distributes the fish’s weight to prevent compression damage to delicate internal organs. Never dangle heavy fish solely by the jaw or gills.

Leave Fish In Water When Unhooking to Reduce Stress

Itโ€™s ideal for a fishโ€™s post-release survival to minimize its time out of the water. If possible, don’t leave the fish out of the water. Keep it in the water while removing hooks and handling.

When lifting fish out of water is necessary, first get your hands wet. Keep air exposure brief, within 30-90 seconds if the fish is active. Limit high-stress handling and return fish into the water as soon as you safely can.

Watch Dorsal Fins and Gill Plates to Avoid Cuts

Many fish have sharp fins and gills that can injure you or the fish if handled wrong. Fold dorsal fins gently against the body while handling fish to avoid cuts from spines. Go slowly and be extremely careful around gills.

For toothy predators like pike or muskie, use long pliers to grip the jaw and support the belly with your hand. Never put fingers in mouths of fish with teeth! Carefully control thrashing that could cause bites.

Use Proper Tools to Handle and Unhook Fish

Use long fishing pliers to remove hooks efficiently without putting hands near mouths. Carry sturdy wire cutters too – if a hook is swallowed deeply, cut the line and release rather than risking injury trying to remove it.

Use large, knotless, rubberized landing nets to minimize slime removal and physical damage during landing. Having the right tools ready before hooking fish limits stressful handling time.

Revive Exhausted Fish Before Releasing Back into the Water

Before release, revive worn out fish by slowly moving them forward underwater to pump water over the gills. Only release them when they kick strongly, showing theyโ€™ve regained strength to swim away.

If possible, move fish revival to more oxygenated water. But prioritize minimizing air exposure over a long move that could further stress the fish. Gently returning fish to depth also helps recompress expanded swim bladders.

More Tips for Releasing Fish Safely

  • Get your hands wet before handling fish to protect their vital slime layer from damage. Donโ€™t wipe fish or let them flop on dry surfaces.
  • Land fish as rapidly as tackle allows to avoid exhaustion from drawn-out fights. Use appropriate rods and reels for target species.
  • Use barbless hooks or circle hooks to reduce injury and deeply swallowed hooks in the gut.
  • Take photos quickly while properly supporting fish horizontally. Keep them over water rather than laying on the ground or boat deck.
  • Watch water temperature and donโ€™t target sensitive species like trout when temperatures rise over 70ยฐF.

Proper fish handling tailored to target species helps ensure released catches survive to fight another day. Doing our part preserves fisheries for the next generation of anglers.

Remove Hooks Properly

For remove the hook from a caught fish:

  • Use long handled fishing pliers to get to hooks in the mouth
  • Grip hooks carefully at the bend to control fish movement
  • Twist and pull sharply at a 90 degree angle to dislodge hook
  • Pull firmly but avoid ripping hooks out forcefully
  • Cut line as close as possible on deep hooks rather than ripping out

Properly removing hooks reduces injury and allows fish to be released in good condition.

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Keeping Fish Wet

To help released fish survive:

  • Wet hands before handling fish to avoid damaging protective slime
  • Keep fish horizontal and support underside to avoid organ damage
  • Leave fish in water as much as possible when handling and unhooking
  • Use rubberized nets to minimize slime layer removal
  • Take photos quickly above water, avoid laying fish on dry surfaces
  • Release fish immediately if they cannot recover from exhaustion

Keeping fish wet and minimizing air exposure gives released catches a better chance to thrive.

Handling Large Fish Properly

Larger fish require extra care in handling to avoid injury:

  • Use appropriately strong rods/reels to land large fish faster
  • Leave very large fish like sharks in water alongside boat
  • Grip the jaws and support underside horizontally with two hands
  • Use gloves to avoid cuts from teeth and gill plates
  • Revive fish in fresh, oxygenated water before release
  • Move revival to deeper water to help recompress swim bladder

Careful handling of large fish helps ensure their survival to be caught again.

Handling Fish with Care

Learning how to properly handle fish reduces injury and mortality for released catches. Here are some techniques for safe fish handling:

  • Wet your hands before touching fish to protect their slime layer
  • Gently control thrashing fish – don’t squeeze tight
  • Carefully hold jaws of fish with teeth to avoid bites
  • Fold sharp dorsal fins flat against the body while handling
  • Never touch or insert fingers into gills of fish
  • Support fish weight evenly under the stomach for large fish
  • Keep fish horizontal and avoid bending head/body at sharp angles
  • Use wet, rubberized nets to minimize slime removal and physical damage

With care and the right techniques, fish can be handled safely and released to thrive another day. Proper handling preserves both fish welfare and sustainable fisheries.

Handling Northern Pike and Muskie Properly

Northern pike and muskie require special care when handling due to their size, teeth, and sharp fins:

  • Use long-handled pliers to grip the fish’s jaw to control thrashing
  • Slide a hand under the belly to support weight horizontally
  • Avoid putting fingers near gills or in mouth, even when removing hooks
  • Use jaw spreaders or gloves when unhooking to prevent bites
  • Fold down dorsal and pectoral fins flat against body while handling
  • Support and orient large fish heads-first into water before releasing

Carefully handling toothy pike and muskie allows safe release with less damage to ensure their survival.

Best Practices for Releasing Saltwater Fish

When releasing prized saltwater species:

  • Use circle hooks and dehookers to remove hooks quickly
  • Handle large fish like tarpon and shark only when necessary
  • Support fish weight horizontally – don’t lift vertically by jaw
  • Leave very large fish in water alongside boat if possible
  • Move fish in circular motion to pass water over gills before release
  • Point fish into current or tide, let it kick away strongly before letting go

Following best practices for saltwater release improves odds your trophy catch will live to swim another day.

Fish Handling Mistakes to Avoid

While it’s important to know how to properly handle fish, it’s also helpful to recognize common mistakes that should be avoided:

  • Never hold fish vertically by jaw or gills – supports weight unnaturally
  • Don’t place fish on hot, dry surfaces that remove protective slime
  • Avoid touching fins, gills, eyes during handling
  • Don’t wrap fish in towel or cloth that absorbs slime layer
  • Don’t hold fish without support for photos out of water
  • Don’t rush handling – have tools ready and act efficiently
  • Don’t drop heavy fish onto hard boat decks during landing

Being aware of poor handling techniques helps anglers learn better fish care through experience.

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