Skip to main content

Saltwater Fishing

Saltwater Fishing

Descending Devices

Take Action to Improve Reef Fish Survival

Barotrauma is one of the leading causes of mortality in released reef fish. These injuries are caused by pressure changes, which occur when fish are rapidly brought to the surface from depths 50 feet or greater. Signs of barotrauma include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bloated belly, distended intestines, and bulging eyes. These injuries can be fatal to the fish unless intervention occurs through the use of descending devices or venting tools.

Descending devices are tools with weights that attach to a fish and help take the fish back to the appropriate depth. There are various types of descending devices but the most common are lip clamps, inverted hooks, and fish elevators.

Venting tools are sharp, hollow instruments that release expanded gas from the swim bladder, which enables the fish to swim back down to depth. Knives, ice picks, and hooks are not venting tools because they do not allow the gases to properly escape and can cause more harm than good.

Descending devices and venting tools range from $10-70 and can be purchased at local bait and tackle stores, online retailers, or can be easily made at home.

A simple at-home descending device can be made with a piece of heavy wire bent into a “U” shaped inverted hook with a weight attached to the bottom. This design allows the fish to be sent straight to the bottom and released when the line is reeled back up. Picture below.

Whether you choose to purchase a descending device or make your own, you can attach the device to the end of your fishing rig with a 3-way swivel and a clip. Weights can also be attached to the rig with loops, snaps, swivels, and clips. Many offshore anglers will dedicate a single rod for descending out of season or undersized fish back to the bottom.

It is important to use the tool that works best for you and complies with the regulations of the waters you are fishing in. You should always keep these tools rigged and ready for use, and only use them when a fish is displaying signs of barotrauma. Learn more at

Interested in learning more about increasing survival of released reef fish and seeing if you qualify for free fishing gear? Return ‘Em Right is an angler-driven program that provides training and free release gear to Gulf of Mexico reef fish anglers that are committed to using best release practices and helping the future of reef fish fisheries. Learn more at