C & R: Florida Fly Fishing

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September 29, 2012              Florida Fly Fishing

Responsible catch and release fishing is effective conservation Aaron Adams F3M Vol 3. No. 5
“Practice good catch and release and send them all back home.”   Neil Taylor

If you want a picture of the fish, or need to weigh it for a tournament, it is best to support the fish’s body from underneath, near the head and the anal fin.

Catch and release fishing is the standard for many fisheries. In Florida, for example, it is estimated that approximately half of all fish caught by recreational anglers are released. However, only responsible catch and release fishing is effective conservation. Catch and release can be an effective and valuable tool in fisheries conservation, but it is essential to practice responsible fishing and fish handling techniques for catch and release to be effective.

Here are a few tips that should help increase the survival of your released fish. Hopefully, many anglers are already using these techniques.

First, use steel or bronze hooks. They are less toxic than cadmium coated hooks and dissolve faster than stainless steel hooks.

Use pliers to pinch down the hook barbs on your lures and flies. By pinching the barb you reduce the amount of time needed to handle the fish, and less handling time is better for the fish. Don’t worry about the effect of barbless hooks on your catching – plenty of research has shown that pinching the barbs does not increase the loss of fish.

Fish Handling In addition to choosing the best terminal tackle, how the fish is handled can have huge effects on survival. The best approach is to never remove the fish from the water. While keeping the fish in the water, remove the hook. If the fish doesn’t swim off on its own, it may need some recovery time. Gently hold the fish under the head and base of the tail until it’s regained the wherewithal to swim off. If there are sharks present, some recovery time in the live well may be beneficial. If it is necessary to remove fish from the water, be sure to wet your hands first. This reduces the amount of slime removed from the fish – slime that is important barrier against infection. Never use a towel to hold a fish, even if wet – too much slime is removed.

Some more specific tips: Although it is tempting, don’t lift a large fish by the lower jaw. Since their connective tissue isn’t designed to hold their weight, lifting large fish by the jaw may tear muscles that they use for eating, and make it difficult for them to eat after being released. If you want a picture of the fish, or need to weigh it for a tournament, it is best to support the fish’s body from underneath, near the head and the anal fin.

Keep away from the gills – the filaments of fish gills are thin, fragile structures. They must be thin to allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the water and the tarpon’s blood. Damage to these structures can be damaging to the tarpon’s chance of survival after being released. Even with best intentions, by placing your hands under the gill covers to lift a fish you run the risk of damaging the gill filaments, so this practice is best avoided. Help the fish recover before release. Fish gills are designed for water to flow in the mouth and out through the gill covers to maximize the amount of oxygen that is transferred from the water to the blood, and to maximize the carbon dioxide that is transferred from the blood to the water. When helping a fish recover prior to release, it is best to orient the fish so water passes into the mouth rather than swish the fish forward and back. Facing the fish into a current or holding it alongside a slowly moving boat are good strategies.

For smaller fish, it is most important to reduce handling time and keep them in the water. For these fish, a boga grip or similar jaw-holding device can be used to hold the fish in the water while the hook is removed. However, even for these smaller fish it is best not to dangle them in the air. And some recent research on bonefish has shown that using a lip gripping device on fish that are still active can cause major damage to the jaw. We prefer not to use these devices.

Where to Fish It may seem obvious, but to many it apparently is not. As a general rule, don’t fish in areas where a lot of predators are present. Research in the Bahamas, for example, showed that survival of released bonefish was very high (more than 95%) in areas where sharks were not present, but dropped significantly (to just 60%) when sharks were present. The same can probably be said for other species. So if predators show up to spoil the party, move along to another location.

Photographing Your Catch With the accessibility and quality of digital cameras, we are taking a lot more photos of our catches. One common mistake is to take the fish out of the water, then get the camera ready, then take the photo. It’s best to keep the fish in the water until your fishing partner has the camera ready for the photo. Before taking the photo, decide where the subject and photographer will be, and get everyone in position before the fish is removed from the water. When holding the fish, support it with wet hands under the head and the anal fin. Research on bonefish has shown that 15 seconds is the maximum time to expose the fish to air, and this is probably a good rule of thumb for other species.

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust has produced a great brochure “Best Practices for Bonefish Catch and Release” that provides a great guideline for catch and release fishing for other gamefish as well. You can download it at http://www.tarbone.org/images/stories/bonefish_brochure-inside.pdf

It’s a Jaw – Not a Handle

  • Don’t lift a large fish by the lower jaw. Since their connective tissue isn’t designed to hold their weight, lifting large fish by the jaw may tear muscles that they use for eating, and make it difficult for them to eat after being released.