Anglers often brag about catch and release fishing. But watching a newbie handle fish makes me slap my forehead. Swing the fish into the boat, grab it by the lip, drop it on the deck, chase it around like a greased pig then hold for a photo and flip it back overboard, you might as well toss the poor thing in the cooler.

After years of research, conservationists have developed the best method to release a fish. Richard Abrams, a biological administrator in Florida, has been spreading the message through outreach and education. Follow these rules for a safe and effective release.

I think I see a smile. | Photo: Dustin Doskocil

1. Work fast

Returning the fish to the water as quickly as possible is key to increasing survival. The fish’s slime coat protects it from parasites. If you have to handle a fish, wet your hands first.

[ Also read: Fishing Kayak Rigging Essentials ]

A rubber-coated landing net protects the fish’s slime and prevents tangled lures and lines.

2. Wet hands

Ideally, keep the fish in the water. If lifting the fish, do not hang it vertically by the jaw. Fish swim horizontally; hanging vertically strains the fish’s organs.

3. Photos

Keep the camera within reach. Hold the fish horizontally and support the weight. Best to take a photo of the fish without removing from the water.

4. Hooks

Use circle hooks or barbless hooks. Abrams has been promoting them for 20 years. Circle hooks are designed to stick in the jaw greater than 90 percent of the time.

Not only does this reduce foul or deep hooking, but circle hooks are easier to remove. No need to rear back and set the hook. Simply apply drag pressure and the hook finds its place.

5. Dehooking Tools

Use the right tool. Most anglers use pliers to remove a hook, but a special tool, called a dehooker, removes the hook without touching the fish.

6. Injured Fish

Return an injured fish to the water, even if it likely won’t survive. A bleeding or deep-hooked fish still has a better chance of recovering in the water than on the frying pan. Even if it doesn’t survive, the fish could benefit other wildlife.

7. Reviving Fish

A common mistake is rocking the fish back and forth to force water over the gills. Fish don’t swim backwards. Instead, move the fish in a figure-8 pattern or walk it along the bank.

8. Retrieving gear

If the hook is too deep to retrieve, cut the line as short as possible. Especially important for toothy fish. Yanking the hook or aggressively removing it can cause injury. Most hooks rust quickly. Barbless hooks can often be disgorged.

9. Rules and Regulations

Bag limits, size limits and seasonal regulations exist to protect the fishery and ensure sustainability. When a fish is out of season, take extra care with catch and release.

10. Stay alert

Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t become so engaged with handling the fish you lose sight of impending dangers. Maintain stability and clear the deck. Finally, look out for nearby predators waiting for an easy meal.

I think I see a smile. | Photo: Dustin Doskocil

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