Catch & Release Tips

Fishing Regulations Vermont Freshwater Fishing

While some anglers prefer to harvest and eat their catch, others opt to practice catch and release. Vermont Fish & Wildlife offers several catch and release – only seasons along with regular fishing seasons to provide a diversity of angling opportunities, and the department has developed a series of tips that provide guidance on landing and safely releasing fish to ensure they will survive to be caught another day.

Are you holding your fish correctly?

Vermont Fish & Wildlife views thousands of fish photographs each year showing some of the best fish catches annually from across the state. According to department fisheries biologists, one commonly seen mistake is how fish are held for a photograph before being released.

“Holding a fish horizontally, not vertically, is the best if you must hold a fish up for a photo,” said Shawn Good, fisheries biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. “There’s a lot of pressure on a fish’s internal organs when held out of the water, especially when held vertically. Fish live in a neutrally buoyant environment — the water helps support their internal organs. Holding a big fish vertically could cause internal damage.”

Good pointed out a couple of other key tips for holding fish.

“Using two hands to support the fish horizontally is the best way to lift a fish for a photo,” said Good. “A good way is to place one hand just under or behind the head and the other under the belly or around the narrow part just ahead of the tail.”

Additionally, Good cautions not to squeeze a fish’s side too hard, or bend its jaw down at an extreme angle as often seen when anglers hold bass.

“Also, keep your fingers out of the fish’s gills as they’re very sensitive and can cause the fish to bleed if damaged,” concluded Good.

Always Be Gentle

Remove hooks carefully. Never rip out a hook!

    Use the “hook shake” technique. Reach into the fish’s mouth and grasp the hook shank with fingers or pliers. Lift the fish and rotate the hook shank down and shake gently, allowing the fish to slide off the hook.
    Hooked in the gills, throat, or stomach? Cut the hook off and leave it in. It will rust out of the fish in a short time period.

Consider using barbless hooks and replacing treble hooks.

Single hooks reduce injury and make live release quicker and easier on the fish.

Using live bait?

Watch your line and set the hook as soon as possible to avoid having the fish swallow the bait.

Don’t wear out the fish!

Exhausted fish are at higher risk of dying after release. Landing and releasing a fish quickly will improve its recovery.

Use the right size net!

Big fish shouldn’t be folded into small nets.

Before releasing a tired fish, cradle it in a swimming position.

Move it gently in an “s” pattern to force fresh water through its gills until the fish is able to maintain an upright position on its own.

Keep the fish in the water, if possible.

Limit the fish’s contact with other objects to protect its slime coating, which is critical to fish health.

Ice fishing?

Avoid exposing the fish to the freezing air. Unhook in the water.

    Vermont Fish & Wildlife offers many catch and release fishing opportunities to anglers, including special seasons and waters that are designated as catch and release only. To learn more, visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com/fish.

Hey! Let Me Go!

    The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department works to protect and restore rare and endangered fish species. To help us in this effort, we’re asking anglers to learn to identify these species and release them immediately if caught while fishing.

Muskellunge (or “muskie”)

More than 50,000 muskies have been stocked in the Missisquoi region in an effort to bring this majestic fish species back to Lake Champlain. If these muskies survive and begin reproducing naturally, they will provide an exciting fishing opportunity in Vermont. They are sometimes difficult to distinguish from northern pike or chain pickerel, or the increasingly common pike-pickerel hybrid.

While anglers may legally target muskie statewide with artificial flies and lures, all muskie caught anywhere in Vermont must be released immediately.


The lake sturgeon is listed as an endangered species in Vermont. Biologists have documented spawning activity in Vermont rivers that were historical sturgeon spawning sites, and they are working to restore sturgeon by improving habitat, restoring stream flow, removing obstructions in rivers, and lessening the impact of sea lamprey predation. Anglers may not target sturgeon and must release them if caught incidentally. Please report the sighting to the department.


Sauger populations are declining across their range and Vermont is no exception. To help protect this fish, a new regulation prohibits anglers from harvesting sauger. Since walleye and sauger are similar in appearance, anglers should learn how to distinguish between the two. If a sauger is caught incidentally, anglers must release it and should report the sighting to the department.

Sauger or Walleye?

Please Learn the Difference