Not only does using best practices increase survival rates of fish, but it also helps fish return to their normal behaviour as quickly as possible after release. Using best practices for catch and release is a quick and effective way to put conservation in to practice. The following guidance comes from the Wild Trout Trust and also Keep Fish Wet, an organisation that promotes the use of science-based best practices to catch, handle, and release fish.
We support catch and release throughout our waters and encourage all anglers to follow these simple guidelines and principles. It ensures every fish caught is given the best chance of thriving in our waters long after being released.
1. Minimise air exposure
Like humans, fish need oxygen to keep alive, but fish get their oxygen from the water, not the air. Fish respiration (“breathing”) involves moving water into their mouth and over their gills, whether by pumping it or when swimming with their mouths open. Also like humans, fish need to respire more during and after exercise, including when they are fighting on the end of a fishing line, as well as after they are landed.
Maximising the ability for fish to get oxygen when they are recovering from the stress of angling is essential for a speedy recovery. Holding a fish out of the water prevents recovery and can lead to death if done for too long. Even short durations of air exposure can harm fish.
Reduce negative impacts by keeping a fish’s mouth and gills fully submerged in water as much as possible.
2. Eliminate contact with dry surfaces
Fish have a layer of protective mucus (slime) that protects them from disease. Contact with dry, hard, or rough surfaces (such as hands, rocks and sand) can remove slime and scales making fish more susceptible to diseases, especially fungal infections.
Keep fish in or over the water, hold them with clean, wet hands or a soft rubber net that will help keep their slime layer and scales intact and the fish disease free.
3. Reduce handling time
Fish are wild animals and handling is stressful for them, whether they are in your hands or in a net. Most fish that are brought to hand are still amped up based on the release of glucose to fuel their ‘fight or flight’ response to being caught. It can take hours for a fish to physiologically return to normal once it is released. The longer you handle a fish, the more stressful it is for them, which compounds the stress associated with capture. Don’t confuse seeing a fish ‘swim away just fine’ as a sign that it has completely recovered.
If you are not going to take a photo of your catch, consider releasing the fish without touching or netting them. Run your hand down the line and remove the hook – something made even easier by using only barbless hooks.
4. Use barbless hooks
Barbless hooks have been around for years. However, as catch and release angling has surged in popularity, so too has demand for these hooks. You might be asking yourself, what’s the big deal? After all, you can just crimp the barbs on your other hooks.
Here’s the thing: when you crimp the barb on a barbed hook you remove the one thing meant to keep the fish on, the barb. Barbless hooks—on the other hand—are engineered to have excellent fish holding power without the barb there in the first place. Read more
Summary of advice
Use barbless hooks
Bring fish to the net quickly
Keep fish in water
Minimise handling, always with wet hands
Do not squeeze, it damages internal organs
Remove hook with forceps if necessary
Avoid contact with the bank or gravel as this removes protective slime
Release fish pointing nose into current so that water is flowing over its gills
Support it gently until it swims away