How To Catch and Release Fish

There is an art and a responsibility to catch a fish than safely letting it go back into the waters where it came from without harming it, to fight it another day. If it’s done right, it can be a sustainable and valuable process. If not, a waste of our natural resources that can’t be replaced. How do you Catch and Release Fish?

  • Use Barbless Hooks & Lures or Pinch the Barb Flat
  • Avoid Wounding Stress & Exhaustion
  • Wet hands before handling fish
  • Don’t touch gills & eyes
  • Use rod & reel with power to land fish quickly
  • Don’t Try to Pull a Hook Out if the fish swallowed it
  • Keep fish in the water to de-hook
  • Resuscitate fish under H2O

To learn respect for nature, teaching a child to catch a fish is one great lesson but also teaching the child not to waste the fish’s life and how to release the fish properly back into nature is the next part of that lesson. Here is how that is done.

How To Catch and Release Fish

The goal of the National Park Service here in the States is to strive to maintain and preserve the park resources in a natural, unaltered condition. Native fish contribute to nutrient recycling and help maintain natural ecosystem processes when they live out their entire lifecycle, from spawning to death, in the aquatic system.

Catch and Release Programs for fishing improves native fish populations by allowing more fish to remain and reproduce in the same ecosystem they were born in and live out their entire lifecycle. This practice can give generations to come a guaranteed opportunity to enjoy what the previous generations like us have to enjoy

The National Park Service no longer even stocks fish for recreational fishing in natural areas within the Parks. Instead,  the National Park Service now relies on natural reproduction and careful management of fishing activities that sustain populations of fish. Non-native fish inhabit many aquatic ecosystems disrupting natural ecosystems. As a fisherman, you can help. They ask a fisherman to keep all non-native fish allowed by the applicable state’s fishing regulations while releasing native species.

This will help restore fish abundance in favor of native species. It’s a win-win situation people who love nature and sportfishing can enjoy their favorite pastime while sustaining the prize that they come for. Some naturalists still ask the question does it work? For the most part, Scientists and Fishermen agree with the program.

There are a few benefits that will positively alter the environment like Catch and Release. Putting a fish back into the environment can give the fish more time to grow. Maybe the next time someone hooks it, he will be twice the size when you caught it. Smaller ones grow into bigger ones.

Practicing Catch and Release and limiting harvest can help heavy-fished lakes and streams. A 25-fish limit of panfish may not seem like a lot, but if just 100 anglers get their limits 10 times a summer, they will remove 25,000 fish from the fishery. They can deplete a whole lot of species of fish in a short time.

The older the game fish is, the more toxins and pollutants are stored in the fish. Older larger fish have time to absorb toxins in their habitat. By practicing the Catch and Release the fish that are chosen to be harvested can be younger while the older fish can be released back to their habitats

If Catch and Release aren’t done right, then the mortality of that species can be depleted and the ecosystem could be damaged. Without a scientific study goes unknown for quite a while. One of the main things that anglers never realized was what Biologists knew. It could be days after a Catch and Release before mortality can be ruled out.

Biologist doing research holds fish for longer periods during the test and have recorded that fish that are released can die 2 or 3 days after the event. Just because a fish looks healthy and revived after it is released doesn’t mean it still won’t die days afterward. By following the exact procedure a fisherman can ensure that the fish will survive.

Mortality is mostly affected by exhaustion. But even a layman can see those signs and act on them. Exhaustion creates high levels of lactic acid that can be potentially fatal. Also, large fish have a problem with overheated muscles that actually begin to break down in the course of a long fight. An exhausted fish can be defenseless and have a lot of problems avoiding predators after release because of the struggle in the water. That exhaustion can last for hours.

Other predatory fish can sense this. If the fisherman uses the right tackle to catch a fish, along with using the right equipment to Catch and Release a Fish. The heavier equipment will lessen the time-fighting in the water and that will lessen the exhaustion of the fish. The steps are put together to increase the fish’s mortality.

Fish that are caught generally die for two reasons:

  • Stress
  • Wounding

By using this information an angler can key in on what causes these two things and it prevents a lot of Catch and Releases fish from dying unintentionally. With some easy guidelines. Most of these tips apply to all types of freshwater Trout, Pike, and Bass.

Do’s & Don’ts of Catch and Release Fishing


  • Do Use Appropriate Hooks
  • Single-tip hooks are a lot easier to remove than multi-point hooks.
  • Barbless Hooks can even be better because they will cause smaller puncture wounds. Small hooks can be made barbless by crushing the end with a pair of pliers. You can remove barbs from larger hooks with files or side cutters. If you catch a fish in the lip jaw roof of the mouth or cheek it can be more easily released than if it was hooked more deeply say in the gills or gullet. It’s recommended
  • Do use artificial lures if the intention is to catch and release the fish these lures are better because they tend to hook fish superficially.
  • Do Keep your hands wet-If you need to handle the fish before setting the fish free make sure to always wet your hands before grabbing and handling it. This will prevent the removal of its protective mucus. They need this when they return to their environment.
  • Do be sure to support the fish while holding it- don’t hold it by the gills-don’t squeeze the fish or batter itself up against the boat or the ground.
  • Do Use -Rod, reel, and line appropriate for the Fish’s size– Use equipment with sufficient power and strength to land the fish quickly. Long struggles on light fishing gear can tire and stress fish unnecessarily.


  • Don’t use live bait it will cause a fish to swallow the bait right off which will lead to gut or gill-hooking.
  • Don’t Try to Pull the Hook Out- if the fish swallowed the hook. The hook will deteriorate over time and the fish has a better chance over time than if you unintentionally tear his organs while trying to unhook him. Remove the hook as quickly as possible.  A good pair of long-nose needle pliers will do the job and should be a tool in every angler’s Tackle Box.  They will release the hook from a fish’s mouth in a snap cleanly and quickly. Just hold the fish over the water and twist the hook to the left or the right and pull it out.
  • Don’t use a net on fish that you will be released- if you are in a boat.-bring the fish in as fast as you can try not to exhaust it-keep the head underwater-and revive him at the boat-toothy fish like musky or trout can puncture your finger or thumb if you grab them by the mouth. If you use a Cradle Net or a Teardrop Frame make sure it’s big enough not to hit the fish when trying to scoop it out of the water. Neoprene rubber-made landing nets are easier on the fish than the old-style twine baskets.
  • Don’t take too long to land the fish if you are planning to release Understand that stress is caused by several factors including taking too long to land a fish or catching a fish during periods of warm water temperatures. When releasing a fish slide the fish gently back into the water. If the fish appears to be stressed hold it in the water and gently move it back and forth. This will force air through its gills. If you are in a river then face the fish into the current and make sure the current isn’t moving too fast.
  • Don’t Fish when conditions are stressful for the fish:
    • Extreme low flows
    • High water temperatures

Fish Landing Nets

Choosing landing gear is the first component of proper catch and release practices. Large or tenacious fish require nets or cradles, while smaller fish can often be hand-landed. Soft Nylon Nets tend to be preferred overall when it comes to landing devices. Soft Nylon Nets can be more gentle taking some trauma out of a dramatic experience. They come in all sorts of sizes and shapes to match up with the fish you’re hunting.  high-quality nets today are coated or made of rubber.

They also tend to have netting without knots. Knotted nets can sometimes damage feisty fish struggling in the mesh. Coated and no-knot netting remove little if any, of the protective slime from a fish when landed. The slime is a critical protective layer for fish and when removed they are more vulnerable to infection and post-release mortality. Wet hands or gloves will help reduce the loss of a fish’s protective mucus. Mucus helps the fish fight fungal growth and other skin diseases. So when handling the fish while landing or taking a picture, wet your hands before grabbing it.

Landing Nets like these are called  Cradle Nets are easier to handle a fish like a Muskie and prevent injury to the fish while landing getting the fish unhooked.

Cradle handles often double as a measuring device, making it easy for fishermen to measure the length of a fish without removing it from the water keeping fish in the water is key to them surviving the release. Cradles hold and support fish in a horizontal position at all times, and can subdue energetic fish better than some lower-grade nets. Most cradle netting or mesh is coated and tangle-free as well. 

Frabill 9527 Conservation Teardrop Landing Net, 29 x 34-inch, Premium Landing Net 

Frabill model 9527 Conservation Series nets are designed with safe catch and release in mind. All nets feature 100% knotless mesh netting, eliminating injuries commonly caused by sharp knots. Flat, linear bottoms reduce fish rolling and support the weight of the entire fish. The tangle-free coating prevents hooks from entangling in a net.

Mesh guard hoops resist wear and greatly extend the life of the net. Conservation series nets are offered in a series of species-specific designs that make proper net selection easy for any angler. The Frabill Teardrop FEATURES: 29″ x 34″ Teardrop Hoop Twin Wall, 1-3/4″ Knotless Micro Mesh Netting, 38″ Flat Bottom,48″ Slide Contoured Anodized Handle, Pow’R LokTM Yoke System, Corrosion-Proof Composite Construction, Automatic Locking with Perfect Handle Alignment. Great for Pike and Musky.

They also tend to have netting without knots. Knotted nets can sometimes damage feisty fish struggling in the mesh. Coated and no-knot netting remove little if any, of the protective slime from a fish when landed.

The slime again is a critical protective layer for fish and when removed they are more vulnerable to infection and post-release mortality. Wet hands or gloves will help reduce the loss of a fish’s protective mucus. Mucus helps the fish fight fungal growth and is absolutely needed back in the fish’s own environment. So when handling the fish while landing or taking a picture, wet your hands before grabbing it.

Another piece of equipment worth mentioning and available here through Amazon is called an  Eastaboga Tackle BogaGrip – 60 lb.  These clamping devices hold the lower jawbone of fish in place and hold steady the slippery fish for easy hook removal without the added risk of injury. Trauma is added to the fish at certain times during the hook removal and landing. The right equipment can lessen that trauma.

Most only require one free hand to operate and let you keep the fish in the water when taking out hooks. The tool is a great choice for solo fishing anglers. Simple in design, anglers do not need to worry about tangling hooks in a net or cradle mesh when using a lip grip. Some of them come with a scale built-in handle.

The Eastaboga Tackle BogaGrip-60lb is great for fresh and saltwater for Surf Blue or Striper. Fish with teeth that draw blood can simplify a landing and even it up when you need to work by yourself. A great tool!

Catch and Release Fishing Laws and Regulations

Catch and release fishing laws vary by region and are typically governed by local or national fisheries management agencies. While I can provide a general overview, it’s essential to consult specific regulations for the area where you plan to fish. Here are some common components of catch and release fishing laws:

  1. Species Regulations: Some regions have specific regulations regarding which fish species are eligible for catch-and-release fishing. Endangered or threatened species may be protected, and regulations may restrict or prohibit their capture and release.
  2. Size Limits: Catch and release regulations often include size limits, specifying the minimum or maximum size of fish that can be legally caught and released. This helps protect juvenile fish and ensures that breeding populations remain healthy.
  3. Gear Restrictions: Certain fishing gear, such as barbed hooks or certain types of lures, may be prohibited or restricted in catch-and-release fishing areas to minimize harm to fish and increase their chances of survival after release.
  4. Handling Guidelines: Catch and release regulations may include guidelines on how to handle fish to minimize stress and injury. This may include using appropriate fishing equipment, avoiding excessive handling, and quickly releasing fish back into the water.
  5. Revival Techniques: Some regulations may recommend or require anglers to use specific revival techniques for exhausted or injured fish to improve their chances of survival after release. This could include techniques such as gently cradling the fish in the water until it regains its strength.
  6. Seasonal Restrictions: Catch and release fishing may be subject to seasonal restrictions, such as closed seasons or specific periods when certain species are protected to coincide with their spawning or migration patterns.
  7. Reporting Requirements: In some areas, anglers may be required to report their catch and release activities, including the number and size of fish caught and released. This information helps fisheries managers monitor fish populations and assess the effectiveness of catch and release regulations.
  8. Penalties for Violations: Violating catch and release fishing laws can result in fines, penalties, or other enforcement actions. Anglers need to familiarize themselves with and adhere to relevant regulations to help conserve fish populations and protect aquatic ecosystems.

Remember to always check local fishing regulations and guidelines before engaging in catch-and-release fishing to ensure compliance with applicable laws and to promote responsible angling practices.

Use the proper tools for Catch and Release:

  • Use heavier fishing gear that will bring the fish in faster with less trauma.
  • Important too is important to be aware that freshwater or saltwater fish brought up from deep water  (30, 40, 50 feet or greater) can suffer from an over-inflated swim bladder called Hyperbuoyancy. A condition where the fish may not be able to swim upright or submerge after being released. Not all floating fish die, but enough to be a concern
  • If a trophy-size fish is hooked in the lip for an easy release – let it go.
  • If you catch a smaller fish that is bleeding – keep it.
  • Fish responsibly. Alter your method or your gear to minimize hooking mortality. That may mean going to circle hooks or setting the hook a little sooner.
  • Apply deeply hooked fish to your bag limit and release the fish with a good survivable hookup.
  • If we are responsible in our approach today, it will mean more fish in the future for everyone.
  • Use the proper tools like long Needle Nose Pliers for an easy release and less trauma that will lessen the amount of stress. Every Fisherman should have a pair.

Hyper Buoyancy and Barotrauma in Fish

What are Hyper Buoyancy and Barotrauma in Fish?  Imagine if you take a balloon 30 or 40 feet down to the bottom of a lake, fill it with a small amount of air, seal it, and then it rises to the top of the lake. What will happen is that the balloon will rise and expand and possibly explode when it reaches the surface. This happens with Largemouth Bass and other bigger Predator fish. Fish have a swim bladder that works similarly to a balloon. When you catch a bass, perch, pike, or walleye in deep freshwater and reel it up to the surface, the same thing happens.

The higher the fish come up towards the surface from the deeper depth, the lower the pressure becomes and the result is the bladder in the fish inflates sometimes pushing the fish’s stomach right out of its mouth. If you are catching and releasing fish this would be a death sentence to the fish that you are putting back in the water. It would never be able to swim back down to the depth it lives at. The air in the bladder will prevent him from doing so. The fish will also fight to get down to that depth creating exhaustion.

The fish will tire out and float back up to the surface because of the buoyancy and lay on top of the lake until it becomes a meal for another predator, most likely another fish, an eagle, a big bird of prey or it will just suffocate. In humans, it is the Bends or decompression sickness.

It’s the lethal effects of ascending too quickly from deep water. When a fish is caught and the hook is set, a fish is normally pulled out of the water very fast and has no control over how fast it ascends from the depths of the lake. It’s a natural reaction for a fisherman to do this.

Not all fish have this problem and that is why you’ll hear some fish burp when you pull them up. Some fish like salmon and lake trout can expel excess air. The lucky fish have what’s called a pneumatic duct that acts as a release valve that prevents the bladder from inflating, making these guys ideal candidates for deep-water catch-and-release fishing. Unfortunately, most fish like sportfishing like trout, bass, crappies, muskies, perch, pike, and walleye don’t.

Still, if you fishing in a deep lake you are more likely to find these sports fish in shallower water because being predators they spend their time cruising looking for mischief and a fast meal that will be on the shallows closer to the edge of the lake. If you see a Bass, Musky, or Walleye that is floating on its side or back the fish is stressed they are likely to float toward the edge of a lake. This problem is more prevalent in Ocean water because of the depth but can often happen in deep lakes.

These fish are suffering from what’s called Barotrauma in Saltwater which results in Hyperbuoyancy

If you hook a fish and pull them up from the deep 30-50 feet the best thing to do is to get it back in the water as fast as possible. Even better, keep it in the water while you take the hook out and revive the fish until it’s capable to recover and swim on its own. If it starts to lay on its side or flops over most likely it will die if you let it go.

When a fish is caught from deep water and brought to the surface, gases dissolved in the blood come out of the solution and cause the swim bladder to expand. The damage and stress that result are called “barotrauma.” A fish can often survive this event if it’s treated and released properly.

When releasing fish caught at a depth, of 30 ft or more.  Like ocean fish Snapper, grouper, and Rockfish to name a few. New devices are now used by fishermen voluntarily to descend the fish back to their homes where they can flourish in their own environment.

Fizzing Bass

Three techniques used to deal with hyper buoyancy or“barotrauma.” are:

  1. Fizzing a fish is done by puncturing the air bladder with a hypodermic (hollow) needle to reduce gas and pressure while holding the fish underwater.
  2. Fizzing can also be done by inserting the hypodermic needle into the air bladder through the fish’s side of the mouth.

    3 techniques used to deal with hyper buoyancy or“barotrauma.”
  3. Another is called Deep release or caging. With this method, the fish is lowered into the ocean or a lake to the depth where they were caught using a weighted cage that is open on the bottom or a small plastic laundry basket and even a plastic milk container can be used.

Eventually, the pressure from the water down below will even out the fish’s body pressure, and the fish will regain its health.

When catching bass from deep water, its air bladder will expand with the pressure change. When released or put in the live well, it will float upside down which is a clear indication that the fish is suffering from barotrauma.

From there, you get your fizz kit and get the fish ready for the “procedure”. The procedure looks complicated but it’s not. The object is to get the air out of the fish.

  • To start, lay the bass flat, and with your left hand place it flat over its gill plate and your thumb on the belly. This holding technique will help you prevent the fish from flopping around, making it harder to control.
  • With your right hand, flatten the pectoral fin, so that it lays down straight under the lateral line. I then count from the point of the fin 2 or 3 scales back or roughly a ½ inch to an inch behind the tip of the fin. This is where their air bladder is located, and since it is bloated, the pressure inside the air bladder must be released to ensure the fish’s survival.
  • Upon locating the air bladder, insert the needle at a 45-degree angle to get under the scale, and then proceed to move the needle to a 90-degree angle when the needle is just under the scale. This will allow you to push down and locate the air bladder.
  • Continue pushing down on the needle until you hear a slight hissing sound, or you can see air bubbles popping out.  In my opinion, it is easier to do this while keeping the fish underwater and seeing the air bubbles coming out. This is my preferred method as you can feel the buoyancy of the fish and know exactly when you hit their air bladder.

A rule of thumb is to keep the needle in the air bladder for 1 second for every pound the fish weighs. So with a 3 lb. fish keep the needle in for about 3 seconds. View this video for good instruction.

Why is Sustainable Fishing Important

Sportfish in Saltwater and Freshwater need to be protected in their environment for future generations to study and enjoy. Catch and Release is a group of techniques that make the experience that creates a less injurious experience for fish. A sustainable way of Sportfishing.

This kind of fishing allows for the excitement of the sport of Deep Sea and Freshwater fishing but keeping a sustainable way of catching and keeping the fish alive ensures the fish will be there for someone else down the road.

The result is that the population of that fish can replenish itself and help to keep the aquatic environments in proper ecological balance. Most sports fishermen don’t catch fish to eat but if the right procedures aren’t used then Catch and Release will only defeat its purpose. We keep hearing that the world needs to practice a Sustainable Management approach to controlling fisheries and forests. Taking wildlife from the sea faster than the population of fish can reproduce is called Overfishing.

Sustainable fishing is vital for numerous reasons, including:

  1. Preserving Fish Stocks: Sustainable fishing practices help maintain healthy fish populations by preventing overfishing and ensuring that fish stocks are not depleted beyond their capacity to replenish.
  2. Conserving Ecosystems: Sustainable fishing practices consider the broader ecosystem, including habitats and non-target species. By minimizing habitat damage and reducing bycatch, sustainable fishing helps protect marine and freshwater ecosystems.
  3. Maintaining Biodiversity: Sustainable fishing supports biodiversity by preventing the overexploitation of certain species, which can disrupt the balance of marine and freshwater ecosystems. By preserving a diverse range of species, ecosystems can better adapt to environmental changes.
  4. Supporting Food Security: Fishing is a significant source of protein for millions of people worldwide. Sustainable fishing practices ensure that fish populations remain abundant, helping to secure a vital food source for communities dependent on seafood.
  5. Economic Benefits: Sustainable fishing can provide long-term economic benefits by maintaining fish populations at levels that support commercial and recreational fishing industries. This helps support jobs and livelihoods in coastal communities.
  6. Cultural Importance: Fishing is deeply ingrained in the cultures and traditions of many coastal and inland communities. Sustainable fishing practices help preserve these cultural traditions by ensuring that fish populations remain healthy for future generations.
  7. Mitigating Climate Change: Healthy marine and freshwater ecosystems play a crucial role in mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon and providing other ecosystem services. Sustainable fishing practices help maintain the health of these ecosystems, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts.
  8. Regulatory Compliance: Adhering to sustainable fishing practices helps ensure compliance with national and international regulations aimed at conserving fish stocks and protecting marine and freshwater environments.
  9. Tourism and Recreation: Sustainable fishing practices support recreational fishing and ecotourism industries, which contribute to local economies and provide opportunities for people to connect with nature.
  10. Ethical Considerations: Practicing sustainable fishing reflects ethical considerations regarding the responsible use of natural resources and the welfare of future generations. It acknowledges the interconnectedness of human well-being and environmental health

Overfishing also occurs in freshwater ecosystems. It is irresponsible. It’s time for an approach from people who use the environment to share in the responsibility of Sustainable Management.

In many indigenous cultures, people have fished sustainably for thousands of years. Today’s sustainable fishing practices reflect some lessons learned from these cultures. Hook and Line techniques were developed with a one-at-a-time method you catch only what you need to eat. Rod and Reel is the modern version of the Hook and Line technique.

Catch and Release is a nice concept. The thought that you can take from nature, then put it back ensuring that a fisherman can minimize the damage to the fish population and preserve the environment where they live is a way of thinking and a connection with nature in a responsible way. Indigenous people even knew nothing lasted forever.

Ike Jime Method

For more great informative articles like this stay on MyWaterEarth&Sky-The Ikejime method has gotten more popular among sport fishing enthusiasts because the meat of trophy catches is so valuable. When you land one of these beasts of the ocean ………………. Continue reading

Jim Galloway Author/Editor



Rudow’s Fish Talk-Dos and Don’ts of Catch & Release Fishing

Related Questions:

When should you release a fish?
Release fish as soon as practical and do not keep them out of the water longer than necessary. Try to release your fish gently head first into the water, which helps push water through the mouth and over the gills, and helps to resuscitate the fish
How do you humanely catch and release fish?
Support the fish in a landing net, or cradle the fish gently with one hand beneath the belly near the water surface. Treat the fish gently. Avoid squeezing tightly, which can damage internal organs and muscle tissue. Remember to never hold a fish by the gills.

Recent Posts