Best Handling Practices
How to Handle Your Fish
DMF is committed to helping anglers get the best information possible when it comes to things like how to handle your fish once you’ve got it in close enough to net or grab with your hands. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a boat, a fishing pier, or a beach, being able to properly handle a fish that is going to be released is extremely important to the health of all recreational fish species.
The first thing you should think about when handling any fish is limiting the time it spends out of the water. This includes the time spent unhooking, measuring, and doing other things like showing the fish to others or getting photos. All the time out of water has a negative impact on a fish’s health and depending on factors such as the species, size, air and water temperature, and spawning condition, that fish can have an increased chance of dying once released. Another very important consideration, regardless of fish species, is to not set your fish down anywhere whenever possible. Unless you must lay the fish on a measuring board, it doesn’t need to be put down on the deck of the boat, the planks of the fishing pier, the barnacle covered rocks you are standing on, or the sand of the beach. These surfaces will not help the fish in any way and can only potentially injure the fish by removing the protective slime covering the scales or the scales themselves.
Think also about taking photos “Do I REALLY need a photo of this fish?”. If it’s a fish you are going to keep and take home then of course take as many photos as you want, but if it’s a fish that is going to be released and you want it to swim away, do your best to limit the time spent holding and taking photos. One suggestion is to try taking a few photos of the fish while it’s in the water or have a friend take a few pictures for you. This will keep the fish in better condition and gets you a bit different perspective for your photos.
Preparation for any fish you might catch is very important. There are things you can do before your line goes in the water to ensure you’re ready and not caught empty handed once that fish is landed. Make sure equipment like pliers or a de-hooker are somewhere accessible for removing hooks in difficult to remove places. Have your measuring device ready to go so you can quickly get a length without having to dig for the tape measure while holding the fish in one hand out of the water once landed. If fishing from a boat, affix a measuring device to the gunnel to aide in quick and easy measuring. If you’re fishing from shore, be ready to get into the water if possible. You don’t have to go too far, but just being ankle deep will ensure the fish stays in or close to the water and not up on the sand or rocks.
Another great way to help get your fish unhooked and back in the water quickly is to only use single hooks. This means removing treble hooks from jigs or lures and swapping them out with single hooks. After swapping the hooks, see how the lure moves in the water. You may need to add small weights near the single hooks in some cases to achieve the desired action. This will result in only a single hook point in the fish and not the two or three points buried in multiple places, which often happens with treble hooks. This will greatly reduce the number of hook wounds and make it easier on you to get the fish safely into the water!
These are just a few ways you can help keep your released fish healthier so that they can swim off to grow, spawn, and possibly be caught again!