The most important contributions an angler can make to a successful release are to hook and land the fish as quickly as possible, leave the fish in the water while dehooking, and quickly release the fish.
Additional tips to improve survival from catch-and-release are:
- Decide beforehand which fish are to be kept and immediately release all others.
- Try fishing with barbless hooks or crimp and remove the barb. Catch rates using barbed and barbless hooks are not significantly different. Advantages of barbless hooks are the reduction in time required to dehook the fish and less physical damage to the fish from hook removal. There is no difference in mortality between barbed or barbless hooks.
- Avoid the use of gaffs or landing nets made of hard polypropelene or nylon that tend to abrade and remove the protective slime from the scales.
Cut the leader close to the hook when releasing large jewfish, tarpon, sharks or other fishes that are gut hooked that you do not plan to keep. Do not lift a gut-hooked fish out of the water by the leader; this can increase hook damage.
- Wet your hands or gloves to handle the fish. Do not injure the eyes or gills. Remove as little slime as possible by placing the fish on a wet towel. To keep the fish quiet, place it on its back or cover its eyes with a wet towel. Control the fish at all times! The fish could fatally injure itself against the boat.
- If the hook is difficult to remove by hand, use long-nosed pliers or a de-hooking tool. Do not tear additional tissue, but back the hook through the original injury. If this fails, cut the leader and pull the hook through the injury.
If your fish is in good shape, put it back into the water head first. If it doesn’t swim or is lethargic or erratic, regain control to prevent “waste.”
Revive exhausted, but otherwise healthy fish by placing one hand under the tail and hold the bottom lip with the other. Move the fish into the shade, either alongside the boat, under the edge of a dock, or to the bottom. Cooler water contains more oxygen and the fish will revive faster! If the fish is in fair to good shape, merely hold it headfirst into the current. If it is severely lethargic, depress the bottom lip to cause the jaw to gape and gently move the fish forward. Moving the fish in an erratic back and forth motion may only induce more stress. Severely exhausted fish may require 15 minutes to revive. At the first sign of the fish attempting to swim away, let it go, but keep an eye on it. Some fish will swim a short distance, become disoriented, and die, snook especially. Redfish may move into the grass and appear to be dead but swim away when it is touched.
Large pelagics, sharks and tarpon should be brought alongside within 20 minutes of hook-up. Masters Billfish Tournaments require all entries be brought alongside within ten minutes. Do not boat large fishes because they are dangerous to both themselves and crew when green. Bringing an exhausted fish out of the water is like placing a plastic bag over the head a marathon runner. It needs oxygen! Catches that are in good shape should be released immediately by cutting the leader close to the hook. If the fish is exhausted, revive it by making sure the head is totally submerged and tow it slowly forward. Gamefishes usually “throw their stomachs” when hooked. Don’t attempt to replace it; the fish will swallow it after release.
If your fish dies despite your best efforts, ensure it meets all regulations then add it to your creel. Otherwise, discard it.!
Anglers who fish Florida’s waters enjoy the benefits of many well managed stocks that are increasing in abundance. The bounty that makes Florida fishing so popular can lead to over-exploitation. Our obligation is to limit our harvest to those fishes that meet our strictest requirements, either as food or as a warranted trophy. Wise use of our stocks dictate that the remainder of our catches be released so they may live to fight again.
Contact information for Dr. Ron Taylor:
100 Eighth Avenue S. E.
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5095
Phone: (727)896 8626
Fax: (727)823 0166