You're out there fishing and you finally reel in a big one. Before you snap that picture for socials or think about a clever fishing pun to go with your post, you might want to think about how to best remove the hook safely. Trust us: taking a few extra minutes is worth it, not just for the sake of the fish but also for your own safety.
Why would you want to safely remove fish hooks?
There are several reasons why you'd want to be better at safely removing fish hooks. You may be practicing catch-and-release fishing, accidentally catch a fish that’s part of the threatened or endangered species list, or catch a fish that’s smaller than what fishing regulations allow. In any of these cases, it's crucial to dislodge the hook safely. This will give the fish a better chance of survival when you release it back into the water.
On top of that, leaving fish hooks, even bits and pieces of them in the water, can be harmful to other creatures, so it's a good idea to remove them before releasing fish. It's also a good practice to make sure we don't leave any other fishing gear in the water, which we discuss more in this article.
On the flip side, learning to remove hooks safely also helps us fishermen and women fish more safely. Fish hooks can be incredibly sharp, and the last thing we want is to get injured by them.
The proper tools for removing fish hooks
Using the right tools is essential for safely removing fish hooks. These tools ensure that the process is quick, easy, and as painless as possible for fish.
Some of the tools available for safely removing fish hooks include pliers, forceps, hook-cutters, and de-hooking devices.
Pliers are versatile tools that can be used to grip and remove hooks, as well as cut fishing line. They can be used to remove hooks that are located in various parts of the fish and can be used with larger hooks.
Forceps look similar to pliers, but they have locking mechanisms that keep them in a closed position. This feature makes them useful for removing hooks from tight spaces, such as fishes’ mouth or gills.
Hook-cutters are specialized tools used to cut hooks if they become deeply embedded. They have a sharp blade that can be used to cut the hook shank close to the fish’s skin.
De-hooking devices are specifically designed to remove hooks quickly and safely. They often have a soft rubber or plastic tip that will hold the hook in place, preventing it from moving around and causing further damage to the fish. They are particularly useful for removing hooks from the fish's mouth.
When choosing a tool, look for one that is resistant to corrosion, especially if you fish mostly in saltwater, as saltwater can be incredibly harsh on these devices. Look for one that also helps you grip the fish firmly and comfortably, even when it's struggling. A long shaft that allows you to reach well into fish is also generally more versatile than a shorter one. Be sure to consider the size of the fish, as well: smaller fish will require smaller tools, and larger ones will need something bulkier and more powerful.
Tips for removing fish hooks
Your goal is to minimize damage to the fish. Start by locating the fish hook. Hold the fish in one hand, and with the other, take your hook removal tool, such as the pliers. Grip the hook firmly and try to pull it out in the opposite direction from where it’s embedded. Finally, use the tool to release the hook.
If you struggle with hook removal, consider using a barbless hook, which tends to come out much more easily than a barbed one.
If you're more of a visual learner, here's a video from Wired2Fish showing how to remove hooks from deep-hooked fish,
Releasing the fish
If you decide to release the fish after removing the hook, remember to handle the fish properly to ensure its survival. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. This will help to keep the fish cool and also prevent its body from drying out.
If the fish is tired or appears to be struggling, it's important to revive it before releasing it. This can be done by gently holding the fish in the water and moving it back and forth to help water flow over its gills. Finally, when you're ready to release the fish, gently hold it in the water and allow it to swim away on its own.
Proper handling of the fish after hook removal can help ensure the fish's survival by minimizing stress and injury. A fish that is handled gently and released quickly is more likely to survive than one that is handled roughly or left injured.
Removing fish hooks safely is not only important for the wellbeing of the fish but also for the conservation of fish populations and your safety as a fisherman or woman. So, take your time, use the right tools, learn to de-hook fish properly, and handle the fish gently if you decide to release it.