Catch and Release Fishing

One of the smallest contributions anglers can make is treating the fish with dignity by handling it in a way that can be the least stressful after it’s caught so that it can stay and live in its habitat years after being caught. This small act could be the biggest for conservation. What is the best way to catch and release a fish?

The Best Way to Release a Fish is to:

  • Wet hands before you touch fish
  • Grab fish by the Lower Lip or
  • Slide fingers between the gill plate & the gills
  • Push dorsal fin down
  • Turn fish horizontally
  • Support its belly
  • Use Fish Grips & needle-nose pliers
  • Go up through Gills to remove a deep set hook from the inside

Take the extra time for the fish you catch to make sure it’s properly revived by waiting a little longer, especially in the warmer temperatures when there is less oxygen in the water and the fish you released may be more exhausted and stressed by what was a great experience for you but not soo much for the fish.


How to Hold a Fish By the Gills


It’s not uncommon for a person who tries to handle a fish to get cut from the Dorsal Fins or Anal Fins on the fish or hurt the fish by damaging the gills, even dropping the fish during the time when you’re trying to get control and picking the fish up.

This is why I find that the only way to get initial control of a bigger type of fish is by slipping your fingers between the Gills and the Gill Plate as the best way of picking up and controlling the fish. Using your thumb on the fish’s lower Jaw you can get a firm grip. The very worst thing you can do is drop the fish so, get control of the fish first.

On a typical very common Hybrid Bass or a Catfish there are some sharp edges on the fish that can cut you or stab you. One is the edge of the gill plate or the Dorsal fin that is hard and sharp. Most fish are covered with what’s called a Slime Coat on the fish that makes it harder to handle and will come off if you handle the fish with dry hands gloves or a towel. 

A fish can be controlled easily by squeezing the gills from over the top of the fish. Use a firm grip so you are under the control of the fish at all times.  the steps are to:

  • Wet your hands (it’s important to always keep your hands wet when handling a fish)
  • Start in the middle of the fish’s back and slide your hand along its body towards the tail folding the Dorsal Fin, back flat against his body.
  • Pick the fish up by gently sliding your fingers under the Gill Plate to support the weight of the fish.
  • Turn the fish horizontally and support his underbelly-this is the normal position of a fish in the water.
  • Now you have complete control of the fishes body and won’t have to worry about getting  jabbed or cut by the Dorsal


Some Freshwater Fish like the Crappie and Bass have a Dorsal and an Anal Fin that can slice your hand or finger so be aware that the fins are made from cartilage and can hurt you if you grab and hold the fish the wrong way. You can use the same maneuver and start at the front of the fish and slide your wet hand down towards the back. This will fold both the Dorsal and Anal fin flat to the body of the fish where it won’t cut you.


Why Are Fish Slimy



Slime on a fish can make handling them harder but Slime on a Fish plays an important role in the overall health of the fish. Slime is secreted from cells in the very outside layer of the skin. In some cases, the placement of these slime-producing cells determines what species of fish it is. The cells produce what is called a glycoprotein, which is then mixed with the water making the slimy mucus. The Slime is a vitally important function for the fish in that it aids their balance of essential electrolytes by forming a two-way selective surface that acts as a filter.

Fish exchange respiratory gases across their skin, and slime actually enhances the gas exchange efficiency across this surface.

Slime is important for fish to regulate many necessary body functions, including protection against parasites. Some parasites can’t attach to the scales because they are too slippery; others suffocate in the slime. Some fish can carry toxins in the layer of mucus that can protect them from other predator species. The slime also affords the fish protection against surface invaders like fungi, bacteria, and ectoparasites, and it contains medicinal qualities that are soothing to open wounds.

It is so effective that medical researchers are working feverishly to isolate the slime’s active ingredients in an attempt to find applications for human infections. Researchers study the slime to try and find an application that may be used for human infections. So don’t handle fish with dry hands just dip them in the water before grabbing hold of a fish or you will pull this protective coating off leaving the fish vulnerable to death and disease.



How to Hold a Fish to Remove Hook


When handling any type of fish species it is important to not put any unnecessary stress on the fish. The fight on the line and dragging the fish alone causes the fish to exert enormous amounts of energy. To alleviate or lessen this stressful experience somewhat, get the fish in as fast as you can then remove the Hook.

In nature, a fish is mostly always in a horizontal position supported by water, once you catch them and pull them out of the water the fish’s stress increases even more. It’s important to know how to hold them properly removing the hook and releasing them back to fight another day.

Playing with the fish while he is hooked for whatever reason it shouldn’t add to their stress levels. In nature, a fish is mostly always in a horizontal position supported by water, once you catch them and pull them out of the water, and de-hook them, the fish’s stress level increases even more.

The main reward, at least for me, is the fight that all species can provide whether it be the acrobatics and sheer strength of a river-run rainbow trout or the heavy head shakes of a walleye. These fish deserve to be handled and released with care and respect no matter what their size. Start by holding the Fish by the Mouth.

What if the fish  Gut Hooked?

  • Hold the fish by the lower lip with your thumb and fore-fingers or use the Fish Grips
  • Use Needle Nose Pliers to remove the hook
  • Come up through the gill plate into the throat of the fish instead of going down through the Fish’s mouth.
  • Find any part of the hook
  • Get as close to the base of the hook from the side
  • Turn and release the hook

Less damage and causing less stress.  This won’t work with all fish but it will work excellent with Largemouth Bass for a clean and simple Catch & Release. 

If the hook makes it down the fish’s gullet and all the way down his throat and catches there is no way you can pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth. If you try and pull it out you are going to hurt and most likely kill the fish. Instead, use your needle nose pliers and Come in from the side through the gills and turn the hook which will release the hook deep inside the fish.

People that are slow reacting to a light bite will gut hook fish but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t save the fish. If you can see any part of the hook looking down the throat you should be able to save the fish’s life.



Removing a Circle hook from a fish’s mouth is simple just use a flick of the wrist in fresh or saltwater

  • Use a Fish Grip or grab the lower lip of  the fish’s mouth
  • Pinch the needle nose as deep as you can on the shank at the Bend of the hook
  • With one motion roll your wrist counter-clockwise and the hook will pull out



SUP Fishing Setup



JimGalloway Editor/Author




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