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Florida

Saltwater Fishing

Fish Handling

Big Fish Need a Little Extra Care to Survive Release

Everyone loves catching big fish but these monster catches often need the most care to survive release.

Larger fish are important to maintain healthy fish populations because they are typically more successful spawners. Keep these tips in mind to give big fish a fighting chance and help maintain and improve your Florida fisheries.

  • Keep large fish in the water to reduce stress or injury to the fish.
  • Use heavy tackle to bring fish in quickly, reducing the chance of exhaustion.
  • Always revive fish showing signs of exhaustion by allowing a consistent flow of water through the mouth and over the gills. Use a “figure eight motion” if you are fishing from a stationary location.
  • Do not gaff a fish unless you intend to harvest it.
  • Use a descending device or venting tool on fish with signs of barotrauma (bloated belly, stomach projecting from the mouth, protruding intestines, bulging eyes.)

If you must remove fish from the water:

  • Get them back in the water as soon as possible.
  • Always hold them horizontally and support their weight with two hands.
  • Use wet hands, never a towel or other cloth that can remove their protective slime.
  • Keep fingers out of the eyes and gills.
  • Do not drag them over rocks, the gunnel of a boat, the side of a dock, pier or any other rough surface.

Fishing from bridges or piers:

  • Only bring fish onto the pier or bridge if you intend to harvest.
  • Only target large fish from bridges or piers if you have specialized gear (pier nets or slings) to support their full body. Bringing up large fish without proper gear or allowing them to freefall large distances can cause injury and increase mortality.
  • If you cannot properly lift the fish, cut the line as close to the fish as possible before releasing it back into the water. (This may mean walking this fish to the shore if fishing from a pier.)

Other tips:

  • Correctly using a dehooking tool can help you quickly and easily remove hooks.
  • Use barbless non-stainless, non-offset circle hooks.
  • Use single hooks with artificial lures.
  • Do not fish when large predatory fish or sharks are in the area. If they show up, move to another fishing location.
  • Encourage other anglers to use these practices too. Learn more at MyFWC.com/FishHandling.