Proper Fish Handling techniques

t’s a hot summer day in Ennis Montana and you’ve been on the river all day in pursuit of the mythical 20 inch brown that currently is in your net. This fish has eluded you all day, finally you get the chance to take a picture with it and show everyone just how good of an angler you are. You hoist the fish up, straight arm it towards the camera in hopes of making 20 look more like 24 inches, and ya let it go. After the releasing that trout, high fives are exchanged, and only the memory and photos are left as evidence. To the angler, this is a highlight of the day if not the week; but for that trout it is a very stressful experience.

Catch and Release

In Montana we are extremely fortunate to live near some truly excellent fisheries. As anglers it is our job to respect and take care of these fisheries. It is also our responsibility to respect the fish and fishing community by practicing catch-and-release. When handling a fish, it is important to make a conscious effort to reduce the stress put on that fish during your interaction with it. In a fish’s life the act of getting caught is the most stressful experience for them, so stressful in fact it can lead to death if not handled properly. Safely handling and releasing of that fish plays a big part in whether or not it survives after you release it. By practicing catch and release we can fish positively affect the fish population.

Wet Your Hands

Not only is the practice of catch-and-release important, but the way that it is done can be equally important. Trout are a very sensitive species of fish, just touching them with your bare hands can threaten a trout’s life. Trout are protected by a slime layer that covers their entire body. The coating helps protect from disease and other harmful oils and substances. When handling a fish with your bare hands this slime is basically removed by your hands. It is important to wet your hands thoroughly before handling a fish. Simply washing your hands in the river before you grab the fish is enough to do the trick. By doing this you are helping to prevent the removal of their protective coating.

Fish Breathe Water

This sounds stupid saying it, but it’s true! Every time that trout gets held out of water it can’t breathe. Think about this, would you want your head forcefully held underwater just for a photo? No!! So instead, try taking photos of the fish while it is in the water, typically this is done while the fish is in the net. A good rule of thumb for taking pictures of fish out of water is to hold your breath while taking the photo. When you feel like breathing, then it’s time to put the fish back in the water.

Landing Net and Releasing

The use of a rubber landing net can be a helpful tool when handling fish. By keeping the fish in a net it reduces the amount of air exposure a trout has to deal with, as well as keeping the protective slime on the trout from rubbing off. The landing net can also help with reviving the fish. Reviving a fish can take some time and is important to that fish’s survival. After a long fight fish are extremely tired and may not be ready to be released until fully revived. When releasing a fish, first you must be sure that the fish is ready to swim away strongly. Do this by pointing the head upstream in hopes of getting water flow through the mouth and out the gill flap. This will help the fish breath and regain energy. The fish should show signs of coordinated fin movement and hold its balance in the water. When the fish feels strong enough to go it will try to swim away, if so then let it.
Remember that fish breath water, it is our job as anglers to keep the fight to a minimum, wet our hands, keep the fish in the water, and release it properly. For more information visit <a href=”https://www.keepemwet.org

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