Catch and release fishing is always a personal choice. In the first place, sport fishing isn’t always about coming home with something. In my case, fishing is my excuse for angling in new waters, seeing beautiful fishing locations, and when lucky, feeling the definite tug of a fish at the end of the fishing line. The thrill of being able to have that connection with another living creature is as electrifying as it is fulfilling.
The catch and release policy is a means of ensuring dependable returns for anglers who come after me on the lake or river. Every fish returned to the water presents an opportunity for a fellow angler. More importantly, it gives the fish species a chance to multiply or spawn, giving way to more robust runs and more fishing potential in the future, not to mention the fact that older fish are more capable of reproducing. One less fish in the cooler is always more fish for the future.
When doing catch and release, I always keep the fish in the water. It is stressful for the fish to be taken out of its natural habitat, which is why we see landed fish struggling with all its might to get back into the water. I either use pliers to remove the hook from the fish’s mouth, or do it with my hand. I do not wish to drag the fish onto the riverbank or shore, because its scales could easily lose moisture that way. As much as possible, catch and release should be done in the water, as it increases the chances of the fish to survive. To be more humane about it as well, I use barbless hooks, or lures with the barbs pinched down. This will not only ensure that I don’t lose more fish but also enables faster catch and release while ensuring less damage to the mouth of the fish. For this purpose, I use J-hooks or circle hooks that I de-barb by squishing the barb flush. In addition, the lures that I use support shallow hooking.
For fighting the fish, I make sure to use oversized fishing line as well as gear for quick landing of the fish. As much as possible too, I use a stronger fishing line test as well as a heavier fishing rod. The fight should be short so I can land the fish quickly. A fish-friendly rubber net helps me land the fish when necessary. I then use wet hands to handle the fish to ensure that the protective slime coating on the skin of the fish won’t come off. Other anglers use soft wet gloves.
When removing the hook, I use hemostats, pliers or other unhooking devices to facilitate quick yet gentle unlatching from the mouth of the fish. Should the fish be deeply hooked, I just cut the line as close as possible to the hook itself. The fish should not be exposed to air for too long.
After release, the fish may appear weak or lethargic, in which case, there will be a need to circulate water through the creature’s gills. To do this, I hold the fish in the water with the head facing fast-moving, preferably bubbly current. If current is not present, I move the fish in a figure eight pattern forward through the water. Then I release the fish once it is able to energetically swim away.