The Best Resource For Catch and Release Fishing

Cast your rod on the hottest trend in sport fishing!
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The Best Resource For Catch and Release Fishing

Cast your rod on the hottest trend in sport fishing! Get free step by step guieds, fishing gear reviews and more!

catch and release fly fishing

What Is Catch & Release Fishing And Why Should I Care​

Learn Step By Step Catch And Release Fishing Techniques

Best Catch And Release Fishing Gear Deals & Reviews

Catch and Release Fishing Tips​

catch and release fly fishing

Some of my favorite memories from childhood revolve around fishing with my family.  My favorite picture in our home is of me showing off a big bass at four years old with my grandfather. 

He passed away from cancer when I was a teenager, but that picture always makes me smile.  I spent the summers of my youth on his hog farm in Southern Missouri catching bass in the farm ponds. Every once in a while, we would take my uncle’s boat out on the Eleven Point River to fish for smallmouth and trout.

I was always taught to have respect and appreciation for the fish that we catch and eat.  I typically fish for the freezer and try to hit my limit to provide food for my family.  We love a good fish fry with family and friends.

However, when I am trophy fishing or if I catch a fish too small to keep I always release it back to the depths.  However, there is a right way and a wrong way to catch and release.  In this article, we will cover tips on how to catch and release without harming the fish.

What Is Catch and Release Fishing?

Catch and release fishing, first and foremost, is all about safely returning fish back into the water after catching them. This form of fishing is extremely popular for environmental activists and enthusiasts who are looking to participate in the sport of fishing without compromising fish populations.

 

Catch and release fishing can be done in many ways depending on the motive. Scientists and biologists effectively catch and release millions of fish every year in order to study them. This is usually done by large nets spread in a specific area worth researching. These nets catch fish as they are swimming by, keeping them safely in place until tests can be done. The fish are then returned back to their respective waterways unscathed. Information gathered by these processes sheds light on eating habits, spawn patterns, and overall population growth to form a comprehensive database used by wildlife authorities.

 

More commonly, the responsibility of catch and release fishing relies on the efforts of every-day anglers. Catch and release fishing is becoming the preferred method of fishing for all types of anglers, and for good reason. Most anglers prefer to release their catch in order to keep their favorite fishing hole filled with healthy fish, while others have no interest in using the fish as a food source. For most anglers, fish are released as soon as possible once the hook has been removed to give fish the highest chance of survival. No matter what your fishing style way, there are ways to modify your techniques to be more geared towards catch and release fishing.

 

Many companies have designed fishing gear solely based on preserving the well-being of fish as a whole. Nets designed to comfortably cradle fish, various styles of barbless hooks, long sturdy fishing poles, and special tools are just the start of basic innovative utensils aimed towards raising fish survival rates. Varies fish species have undergone extreme overfishing and are at risk of becoming endangered or extinct. Catch and release fishing gives outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to come face to face with some of the most beautiful creatures in the world without adding to the overall problem at hand.

 

From big game saltwater fishermen targeting sailfish to laid-back fly fisherman looking to score a decent rainbow trout, one factor remains the same for all; the love for fish! Practicing methods that preserve our favorite fish species is the only way to ensure we can all enjoy these animals for multiple lifetimes.

 

Why Catch and Release Fishing the Right Way?

If fish are not handled properly when catching and releasing, they will not survive.  The small fish you throw back will never mature, and the monsters will never survive to see a line again.  It is our responsibility as anglers to protect the fish populations in our favorite bodies of water.

There are two big changes taking place with fishing.  The first is that sport fishing is becoming more prevalent. People who would never fish before are using the sport to unwind from their busy lives.  However, many of them are still buying fish at the grocery store instead of eating the fish they catch. They rarely know how to catch and release properly because they are new to fishing.

The other big change has been the enforcement of fishing regulations.  When I was a kid, we could fish every day of the week and never see a ranger.  Now you can just expect a visit if you are on public land.  If you do keep your fish, you need to be sure you measure them and follow regulations.  That’s why I catch and release anything that is not a monster.

Most anglers simply do not realize the damage that they do when improperly practicing catch and releas fishing.  If a fish swallows the hook and you throw it back, it has about a 30% chance of surviving.  If you are fishing with live bait and throw back a fish, it has about a 60% chance of surviving. These are scary figures, but you can drastically improve the survival rate if you follow a few simple tips.

In the end, proper catch and release is all about conservation.  I would like to think that I will be able to enjoy fishing these same spots with my grandkids when I am retired.  It saddens me that something as simple as poor catch and release practices could make that dream impossible.

What Is The Point Of Catch and Release Fishing?

People practice catch and release fishing for a variety of reasons with the overall goal of happily watching a fish swim off back into the depths on its’ own strength. Nothing is worse for fishermen than having a fish swallow the hook or undergo other painful experiences that hurt or even kill the fish. This can be extremely devastating for fishermen and can turn novice anglers off from wanting to partake in the sport at all. 

 

In many areas of the world, catch and release fishing is required in streams and other waterways to ensure the longevity of a certain species. Trout, for example, are especially susceptible to harm from humans and typically have more rules attached to them as opposed to, say, sunfish species. Trout grow very slowly and have a hard time coping with natural discrepancies, let alone with the added stress of human interference.

 

Catch and releasing serves many purposes all over the world. Like we mentioned before, scientists practice this form of “fishing” in order to gather information used to enforce laws and fishing seasons. Sport fishermen typically prefer catch and release fishing with the understanding that every fish returned back to its original waterways gives the opportunity for another angler to experience the joy in catching the very same fish at an older age. Anglers who have a favorite fishing spot or private pond often prefer to release their catch as to not reduce the local population.

 

While fishing for specif fish during their spawning period is, in most cases, forbidden, many areas simply require a change in the gear used. Fish that are hooked up from their nesting grounds may never return home leaving their eggs in the hands of all other water creatures. In these periods of fish spawning, catch and release fishing is extremely vital towards ensuring reproduction continues on schedule. If you are a fisherman who enjoys eating the occasional fish or using fish as a prime food source for the dinner table, only keeping fish that are too far gone to save is a great middle-ground. Releasing females back into the wild is the number 1 way of keeping populations stable in your stream or pond. There are many reasons to practice catch and release fishing, so, do your research on your local fishing spot and see what changes you can make to better benefit your ecosystem.

Light vs Heavy Fishing Rod: Don’t Overwork your Fish

I personally love the feeling of bringing in a big fish on a light rod.  It makes the fish feel bigger than it actually is.  Unfortunately, fishing this way is hard on the fish.  You end up fighting the fish two to three times as long as if you had a heavier rod.

If you use a heavier rod and line, you can bring in the fish faster without worrying about the line breaking.  This puts less stress on the fish and gives it a better chance of survival.

Catch and Release Fishing Nets

Lots of anglers will pull the fish onto the shore by the line.  Think about how much damage that hook does while pulling the fish out of the water.  You need to have the right net to bring in fish.

If you need a longer reach, use a net with a long handle like a crappie net. This is perfect for fishing on the shore or in a boat.  Nylon nets tangle easily making it harder to release your fish.  A silicone or rubber net does not have this issue.  If you are fishing for trout, always use a trout net as this species is incredibly sensitive.

Leave Swallowed Hooks To Catch and Release!

Best Barbless Carp Hooks

I mentioned earlier that only about 30% of fish that swallow the hook will survive.  This is largely because of the angler trying to remove the hook. 

Imagine that hook imbedded in your skin.  If you try to pull it out, you do a ton of additional damage because of the barb.  This is exactly what happens when you try to remove a swallowed hook.

As is with human flesh, eventually the hook will work itself free.  Another figure to consider is that roughly 70% of fish that have a swallowed hook left inside them will survive.  If you rip out the hook, the fish will almost certainly die.  Just cut the line and get the fish back into the water as soon as possible.

Catch and Release Fishing Masters Tip: Get Your Hands Wet

The fish you catch have a mucus layer on their scales that is needed to keep the fish healthy. Trout are really sensitive to disruptions to this layer, but it affects all fish.

Get your hands wet before handling a fish to keep damage to this layer at a minimum.  Always avoid touching the eyes and gills as these parts are especially sensitive.  When you put a fish on a stringer, always run the stringer through the bottom lip and not through the gills.

Barbless Fishing Hooks

You should really consider barbless fishing hook since they are available in all of the same sizes as standard hooks.  The barb is what does all of the damage to the fish.  You can almost always remove a barbless hook without any serious damage.

You will have to improve your skills as an angler as barbless hooks are more likely to come loose.  You must maintain steady pressure so that the fish cannot shake free. You can also use pliers to flatten out the barbs on standard hooks.

Other Tips for Catch and Release Fishing

Don’t let the fish touch the ground. It will do even more damage to the mucus layer than your hands would.

Be quick with your pictures. Keep the fish submerged until the second that you are ready to snap the picture.

Watch the head.  The head of the fish is more sensitive to impact than other animals.  Even a small impact can kill the fish.

Release the fish properly. Do not move the fish back and forth to revive it.  Just face it upstream and the water will run through the gills and get the fish going.

Don’t catch and release when it is hot.  In temperatures above 80F the fish can die just from the shock of bringing it out of the water.  When in doubt, check with the Department of Conservation.

Protecting our fish populations should be a top priority whenever you go fishing.  With just a little extra effort, you can have a blast fishing and still keep the fish alive.  This will ensure that generations to come will be able to enjoy fishing in those same beautiful spots.

Catch and Release Fishing FAQ's

Practicing catch and release fishing the proper way is vital towards maintaining healthy fish populations in our favorite waterways. Catch and release fishing compiles many techniques and specific gear to minimize the risk of taking the fish’s life during the process of landing. Being an informed angler can go a long way in terms of environmental sustainability. Many fish require proper handling to ensure no further or long-lasting damage is done after you are hooked up, which can be a whole new learning experience even for the most avid sport fisherman. In this article, we are going to cover the basics behind catch and release fishing along with common questions anglers have when transitioning to a more humane sporting style.

The recent methods of catching fishes are pure evolution and improvements from the traditional fishing method that was in play. Fishes are good sources of protein, making so many communities dependent on fish for decades. Also, fish served as a source of income to those who understood the different reliable methods for capturing them.

Only a few of the known traditional fishing methods are still used today. However, let’s explore some of the used and common traditional fishing techniques

 

Is Catch and Release Fishing Cruel?

Contrary to common beliefs, using the right equipment to properly release your catch back into the water can be a quick process giving fish the best chance at living a long happy life. The problems that arise during this form of fishing usually stem from being unprepared or unknowledgeable about how to handle specific fish species and the correct gear to do so.

Using light tackle on a small rod is the least effective way of landing a large fish, putting unneeded stress and anxiety on the fish can lead to a higher mortality rate. From the time you hook into a fish to when it is released on its own back into the water timing is everything. Having a large pole with heavy line will allow you to land the fish much quicker resulting in a faster release time. Releasing a fish caught and handled with care is the furthest thing from “cruel”, although releasing a fish destined for death from improper care is immensely cruel.

 

What Percentage Of Fish Die After Catch and Release?

Fish that get hooked in the gills or vital organs have a much lower chance of survival, despite how fast you remove the hook upon release. Even a fish that seems to swim off fine may have underlying complications from either being too stressed out or physically injured and can die shortly after. Fish that spend excessive amounts of time outside the water have a much higher mortality rate.

Studies have shown that fish, in this case trout, that are exposed to air outside of water for 30 seconds suffer a 38% mortality rate while trout that are kept outside of the water for a minute suffer a 72% mortality rate. Trout are some of the most vulnerable fish in the world and require special care, keeping the fish in the water the entire time will result in a higher chance of survival.

As far as removing the hook goes, studies have also shown that leaving the hook in place when gut hooking a fish can prove to be more effective in saving its’ life. Referencing studies made on trout, they show leaving a hook in a fish’s gut or vital organ can produce a 47% mortality rate while removing the hook jumps that number up to 74%. Never excessively pull or tug on a fishing hook to dislodge it, this will often cause irreversible damage and end the fish’s life.

 

Does Catch and Release Fishing Hurt The Fish?

Let’s face it, all forms of fishing can pose potential harm to fish. Conventional style fishing (hooks, rods, line, etc.) uses sharp hooks to impale the fish’s mouth which is then brought to the shoreline or boat for removal. This process can, when done right, can cause minimal injury thanks to many fish-friendly products on the market today. From the time you hook into a fish to the time it is released safely into the water, time is of the essence. Quickly getting the fish back to its home is the simplest way to prolong survival.

Using Barbless Hooks or barbless circle hooks is a great place to start when focusing on fish health. Barbless hooks are much easier to remove than barbed hooks, therefore, causing less damage to the fish’s mouth or vital organs. Circle hooks by design cause less damage than standard hooks with a much lower risk of causing permanent damage.

What Happens To Fish When You Catch and Release?

When you practice catch and release fishing, you are effectively protecting your environment and giving otherwise helpless fish another chance to survive in the wild. More often than not fish that are properly taken care of and released in a timely fashion live long healthy lives. Mishandling fish such as overhandling, keeping them outside of water for prolonged periods or taking your sweet old time getting them to shore.

During the fight of landing a fish lactic acid builds up in the fish’s muscles causing it to become exhausted and stressed. Quickly landing your fish reduces the stress factor letting it fully recover and become strong enough to swim off on its own. Fish that succumb to excessive amounts of stress can have problems later in life such as a lack of sexual reproduction or reduced eating habits. Fish caught on their spawn beds may never return to the nest abandoning their nest in fear. Hooks that are unable to be removed with either rust out or be worked out naturally by the fish.

 

Catch and Release Fishing Laws

Laws regarding catch and release fishing requirements vary greatly from region to region and waterbody to waterbody. These regulations are set in place with fish in mind and are very specific to the types of baits allowed. For example, some areas within the U.S forbid the use of live bait when fishing for largemouth bass during the spawn. This rule is set in place to reduce the risk of gut hooking a pregnant bass to keep the population healthy.

Because of the standstill nature of using live bait, a fish will more commonly swallow the bait, hook, and all before you get a chance to set the hook. Fishing with lures or flies reduces this risk greatly. Many places also require catch and release fishing to be done in areas that are plentiful with species such as salmon or trout in efforts to keep a large population. In some areas, however, catch and release fishing is forbidden for species that are invasive or pose risks to other native species.

Be sure to check your local laws and regulations in your area before trying out a new pond or stream.

Benefits Of Catch and Release Fishing

The number one benefit of practicing catch and release fishing is being able to participate in a sport you love without having to take a fish’s life for the experience. As mentioned above, many places require catch and release fishing and forbid the use of barbed hooks. Having the proper education and fishing gear will open up a wider range of fishing options to keep your lines tight year-round.

Catch and release fishing ensures a healthy population of your beloved fish species in waterways for years to come. It takes the majority of anglers to participate in catch and release fishing to eliminate the risk of overfishing altogether. Practicing techniques that are beneficial to the well-being of the fish brings new purpose and attention to an already exhilarating experience. If all the trout in a river were kept for food or dies from misuse, there would be minimal fish left for those that intend on releasing their catch.

Proper Release

Once you have hooked into the fish and brought it in as quickly as possible, there are a few tricks to ensuring the fish swims off healthy. Lifting a fish out of the water by the line can hurt a fish further, so always use a net when possible. Rubber-based nets pose less risk to vulnerable fish species and are worth looking into for your next trip. Keep the fish in the water the entire time if possible and try not to touch the fish with your bare hands. Fish have a natural slime all over their body to protect them from diseases, this slime can be easily removed just by handling them with a dry or uncovered hand.

Holding the fish directly in front of the tail with your thumb in the fish’s mouth while slowly moving the first in a forward direction will allow more oxygen flow to help the fish regain strength. Helping the fish regain strength will greatly increase the chance of the fish surviving on its own. When you feel the fish starting to swim on its own, release your grip immediately. Most fish that are able to swim off on their own will survive to see another day.

Removing The Hook

While there are many different theories and studies done on when is the right time to cut the line or try to extract it, it comes down to your situation and ability. Having the right tools, such as a good pair of pliers, can make extracting the hook much easier with less chance of irreversible damage. Barbless hooks are much easier to remove than barbed hooks and should always be used when participating in catch and release fishing.

Hooks that are lodged in the gut or vital organs should be left in place to at least give the fish a fighting chance. More times than not, your hook will get lodged in a portion of the fish’s mouth and can be easily removed with your hand or pliers. If the hook proves difficult to come out but is in the fish’s mouth still, slowly moving the hook from side to side while pulling outwards can let the hook naturally find the point of entrance and be removed with ease. As mentioned previously in this article, time is the most important aspect in ensuring a safe release. The quicker you get the hook out or cut the line as close to the hook as possible, the better chance there is the fish will remain healthy.

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