There are right and wrong ways to catch and release
According to an article in the Outdoor News, a 2008 survey by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission documented that 88 percent of Pennsylvania trout fishermen released their catches at least half the time.
Catch-and-release has become an extremely common practice along Pennsylvania trout streams, giving more fishermen more opportunity to catch fish.
Not everybody releases trout in the proper way, however, and many fish die from being mishandled. Following are some things to keep in mind when releasing your next trout:
Limit play time: Reeling fish in as quickly as possible and avoiding playing a fish to its exhaustion increase the chances of its survival. If possible, the hook should be dislodged from the trout’s mouth while the fish is still in the water.
Set the hook quickly: Setting a hook as quickly as a bite is detected can often serve to prevent a fish from taking a hook deep into the back of its mouth, or throat, which can also greatly adversely affect the fish’s chances of survival.
Dislodge hooks gently: Hold a fish by its jaw and gently lift the hook from its mouth with the help of a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Hooks should never be yanked out of a fish’s mouth. If the fish has swallowed a hook, it is best to use a line-cutter and snip the line off as close to the fish’s mouth as possible, allowing the fish to swim off with the hook still in its mouth. Trout are extraordinarily resilient creatures, and over time, the hook will disintegrate in the fish’s mouth. A yanked hook, however, will likely cause extensive bleeding and most often prove lethal for a fish.
Keep fish in the water: This is common sense, but the longer that a fish is outside of the water, the less are its chances of survival.
Avoid the gills: Putting fingers into a fish’s gills is literally suffocating the fish.
Don’t use treble hooks: The more hooks that there are at the end of the line, the less chance there is for a fish that takes the hook to survive. Barbless hooks are advisable for fishermen who want to catch-and-release. If not using barbless hooks, treble hooks should at least be avoided.
Don’t grip the fish’s belly: Using a death grip on a fish’s midsection when it is out of the water can cause extensive internal injuries to the fish.
Don’t grip the fish … period: Gripping the trout for an extended period of time with a dry hand will move the protective slime from a fish’s coat and limit its chances for survival.
Slide, not throw: Chucking a trout several feet ahead into the water after releasing it will cause shock to its system. It is best to slide the fish back into the stream with your hands in the water, and the fish facing upstream before it swims off.
It’s not always possible or easy to adhere to some of these practices, but keeping them in mind and attempting to do so will greatly ensure that the fish that are released will live to fight another day.
John Hartsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org