Catch and release fishing has become more and more popular among anglers in recent years. If you've been fishing for a while, chances are you've probably heard about it, thought about it, or want to be better at it.
But for those who aren’t too familiar, catch and release fishing is a technique where fish are caught, measured, often photographed, and then quickly released back into the water. The idea is that fish returned to the water can still live and reproduce, or be caught again in the future. Anglers who practice catch and release fishing try to be much more careful in handling fish to increase the fish’s chances of survival once they are returned to the water.
Why catch and release fish?
People who fish might do catch and release fishing for different reasons, but here are some of the most popular ones:
Anglers who care a lot about the environment think that the sport promotes sustainability by making sure that the fish population doesn't drop too much to levels that aren't sustainable. Many anglers are happy with just the thrill of catching fish and learning about them up close. Often, they want to put the fish back in the water so they don't go to waste and others can still catch them for food or sport.
Some fishing spots only allow catch and release fishing. Some local regulations also specifically prohibit anglers from keeping caught fish of a certain size, more than a certain number, or during certain seasons.
Catch and release fishing can also be done for practical reasons, like when you're too tired to keep fighting with the fish and just want to call it a day or when your cooler is full.
How can you practice catch and release fishing?
All that said, catch and release fishing isn’t as easy and simple as catching a fish and then dropping it back into the water right away. Catch and release fishing requires anglers to learn and master some skills, use the right tools, and most of all, have the right mindset. These can keep the fish from being stressed or hurt needlessly and increase their chances of survival.
What you need to know before you begin
It has to be said: it is extremely stressful for fish to be caught on a line, have a sharp hook stuck in their mouth, and be held by a person long enough to get the perfect photo to post on social media.
Handling the fish roughly with dry hands, squeezing it hard, letting it fall on a hard surface, removing the hook or line incorrectly, using the wrong hook, bait, lure, rod, and reel, and keeping the fish out of the water for too long, or not letting the fish fully recover before releasing it—all these can unintentionally kill the fish, which, frankly, defeats the whole purpose of trying to practice catch and release at all.
If you want to get into catch and release fishing, try following these tips:
- Gentleness is key. Do not squeeze or rough-handle fish. Make sure your hands are wet or you're wearing gloves when you handle fish so you don't remove the slime that protects it. Don't let the fish flop around too much on the boat, and don't drop it on something hard. Also, keep your hands away from the eyes and gills, which are very sensitive.
- Act fast. Fish can't breathe or regain balance if they aren't in water. If you want to take a picture of your catch, which you probably do, get your phone or camera ready to save as much time as you can.
- Use strong and powerful rods, reels, and lines. Long fights with light fishing gear can make fish tired and stressed out even before you handle them.
- Release gently. Once the fish gets its balance back, which you'll know when its gills start opening and closing again, hold it horizontally over calm water and let go.
- Swap out your usual gear for those that can cause less injury to the fish. Try artificial lures or flies and single, barbless hooks. When you use artificial lures or flies, the fish are usually hooked in the lip, which makes it easier to remove the hook quickly. Avoid using bait, which can cause more injury. Single, barbless hooks are also safer to use. You can also use hook removers or needle-nose pliers to carefully remove the hook.
Catch and release fishing takes both planning and practice. Whether you’re considering it or just learning about it as another technique, these tips can help give you a deeper appreciation and understanding of sport fishing.