Posted by: Tom K.
August 18, 2011

Tom K.

Put ‘Em Back Right

Nothing beats a dinner of fresh fish, but with many anglers practicing catch-and-release, here are some tips that will help fish survive to fight another day.  

Catch and release nets: Catch and release nets are designed to help anglers release fish in good shape.  The frames are rectangular so that there is more room for them to get in (and out) of the net.  Shallow baskets with smaller holes mean fish don’t get tangled.  And, basket materials are no longer made from cotton which removes a fish’s protective coating or scales.  They’re made from either soft PVC or nylon that protects the fish’s skin. 

Tame the beast: If you’re having a hard time subduing your quarry, turn him upside down.  Wet your hand and run your hand down the dorsal side to flatten the dorsal fin.  Then, rotate your hand to turn the fish upside down.  Other fish, like largemouth and striped bass, stop moving when you grab their lower jaw.  Be sure they don’t have teeth when you grab their mouth, and use both hands on a big fish!

Like going to the dentist: Have the right gear for removing the hooks.  A Bogagrip properly holds toothy fish like bluefish or pike, while long, thin forceps are best for fish with small mouths, such as bluegills or sunfish.  The right tool shortens time in captivity. 

Selective use of gaffs: Gaffs cause bleeding and should be used selectively.  One positive example is a hand gaff that goes into a tarpon’s bony mouth.  Gaffs that penetrate a fish’s side should be exchanged for simply cutting the terminal gear as close as possible to the hook/lure. 

Jump-start some fish: Some fish, like bonito, false albacore, skipjack, football tuna and other pelagic fish will die if they are rocked in the current.  Instead, these fast swimming fish need to be jump-started as the rush of water over their gills provides them with the necessary oxygen to swim away.  Hold one hand under their gills, one hand on their tail, and propel them head first into the drink.  Their color comes back immediately.  For medium-sized fish, put the boat in gear and hold them into the current.  The faster speeds will revive them for release.

Keep ‘em in the water: If you’re not going to keep the fish, you can at least take a picture, right?  Sure, just remember a few things.  First, limit the out-of-the-water time.  Not only can’t the fish breathe in the air, but its organs are used to living in a gravity-free environment.  Next, hold one hand below the gills and one hand on the tail.  Don’t squeeze, just cradle.  Finally, keep the fish in the water until you’re ready for the shot, then lift, shoot, and replace. 

Tom Keer is a freelance writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He regularly writes for over a dozen magazines, and is the contributing editor of Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America and a columnist for The Upland Almanac. His book a “Flyfisher’s Guide to the New England Coast” was published by Wilderness Adventures Press in 2010. Visit him at

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