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Catch and Release Tips for Fly Fishing

Updated on February 28, 2016

There is nothing like fresh trout cooked streamside and many of us still enjoy this treat occasionally. However, the older we get the more we may prefer to release the fish we catch, to preserve the fishery and avoid the fish cleaning duties. And of course many of the waters we fish are now catch-and-release only.

The harm to the fish caused by catch-and-release practices is often underestimated by both anglers. Many fish will swim away apparently unharmed, only to die later. However, when performed correctly, catch-and-release can be successful with minimal harm to the fish. The following simple guidelines are offered:

Limit the Fight

Fighting a fish is a thrill, but a prolonged fight will greatly reduce the chance of the fish surviving after release, particularly for trout and salmon in warmer waters. Keep in mind that every catch will not be landed, even when we are seemingly doing everything correctly. Let the fish run if it wants, but then apply consistent pressure to the side and pull the fish in quickly. And never drag the fish up onto the shore where they can flop on the rocks resulting in injury.

Use a Net

Avoid the deep nylon nets and get a good quality rubber catch-and-release net. Some fishermen use a net for every fish, regardless of the situation. However, there may be times when a less harmful technique is appropriate. If the fight was short and the fish is small, handling and reviving the fish during the release may not be necessary. Try grabbing the fly with your forceps and giving your hand a quick twist while lifting the fish slightly out of the water. Don’t use this technique on bigger fish or near shore or rocks. Using barbless or crimped hooks will make this technique work more smoothly.

Rubber Catch and Release Nets
Rubber Catch and Release Nets | Source

Handle Gently while Reviving

Get your hands wet before handling the fish and try to avoid touching near the head and eyes. Dry hands are much more likely to remove a fish's layer of slime which protects the fish from fungus, bacteria and parasites. Carefully remove the hook and face your fish upstream and let it breathe normally. If the hook won’t come out easily, don’t force it, just cut the tippet. The fish will have a much better chance of surviving with a hook in its jaw than a wound in its mouth. If you want a photo, make sure the photographer is ready before lifting the fish from the water and limit the air exposure to under 5 seconds, if possible. Once back in the water, don’t move the fish back and forth and be patient. When it is ready to swim away, you will know by its movement and stability in the water.

It is not a bad thing to enjoy an occasional streamside trout or bring fish home for food. But if we are going to practice catch-and-release, we owe it to the fishery and other anglers to do so in a low-impact and appropriate manner. And we have the responsibility to educate others on proper catch-and-release techniques. Remember catch-and-release can be an enormous benefit to a healthy fishery.

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