Holding big fish vertically — A death sentence?

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We’ve all done it — posing proudly for a photograph with that huge lunker held vertically by a Boga Grip. But have we ever considered what is the physical impact to that fish, and what happens to it once it is released. Tarpon Springs guide Capt. Gene Zamba, concerned about this dilemma on holding large snook vertically, recently posed the question to Florida Marine Research Institute snook scientist Dr. Ron Taylor. In his response, Dr. Taylor makes a very compelling case for abandoning this procedure.

“Good morning Capt. Gene, your reputation precedes you in my office. I have known you (not personally) but through your exploits for years. I like your demeanor- it’s easy and somewhat laid back. Thank you.

As to holding snook, or any large fish, in a vertical position is counter to the natural condition. Think about it! While the fish is in the water, the natural buoyancy of the liquid medium holds and supports the fish’s organs in the correct position. By simply removing the fish from the water causes the internal organs to become stressed and somewhat displaced from their natural location. And now add to it the absolutely un-natural position of holding the fish vertical. I don’t know of any hands on research that actually describes what happens to the stomach, liver, heart, and gonads of a fish being held out of the water in a vertical position.

Something tells me that this has to induce unnecessary stress on the heart and other organs. Like when a cow lays on its side, or when an elephant or horse ‘goes down’. If they aren’t righted soon and supported in some way, the internal organs soon fail.

With big snook a more dangerous situation arises. Say the fish weighs 25 pounds and you are holding by the bottom jaw with only the Boga Grip. The fish is in grave danger that the isthmus will rupture and give way. I’ve seen it many times. The isthmus is that connection that holds the lower body to the head and gill apparatus. You’ve seen this I’m sure. There is a large bulge at the ‘throat’ of the snook. Actually the pictures we see of anglers holding a lunker shows what I am speaking of. This is a deadly situation. The snook has to have this connection to be able to open and close the mouth with this magnificent force that snook have. If the isthmus is broken, the mouth-jaw gulping action doesn’t work. it doesn’t kill the fish immediately, he starves to death. It’s like being gut shot. Slow, but certain death. Plus the unknown damage done to the internal organs.

I know these grips are popular. They facilitate holding the fish. But use it properly. don’t use it to hold large snook in a vertical position out of the water. in the first place, large snook are easily overcome with lactic acid buildup in their muscles from the strenuous fight. This acid buildup can cause a cascade effect of physiological imbalance in the muscle and organ tissue. It’s like holding a marathon runner’s head under water after he just completed running 26 miles. what he and the fish need is rest and oxygen. Not additional stress and oxygen deprivation.

So if the snook is not to go in the creel, not destined to be the bag, try to release the snook while it is still in the water. If you must remove it for a photo, hold the fish in a horizontal plane by the bottom lip while supporting the belly or tail in your other hand.

And when you finally release the snook- if it is stressed beyond some critical point- disoriented and ‘tired out’ so to speak, spend some time with the fish and revive it before releasing it to a porpoise, barracuda, shark. Hold the fish in an upright position, preferably in the shade of the boat, a nearby dock or overhanging tree. Shaded water is cooler and cooler water contains more oxygen. if the snook is is poor shape, hold the bottom jaw slightly agape and move the fish, in one direction, into the current.

Don’t, BY ALL MEANS, move the fish back and forth in a herky-jerky motion.

This induces more stress from unnaturally constraining the fish- do you know any species of fish that swims back and forth in this manner? The water needs to flow over the gills in a deliberate un-riled stream. The gills can’t remove oxygen from a turbulent steam. And at first indication the fish is ‘ready’, release it. Nature can revive a fish better that we ever can. Gently head out into the current and let it go. Watch for a minute or so. Snook are notorious for swimming out of sight and turning on their belly and dying. if that happens, just upright the fish and hold it for a few minutes in a natural position.

Sometimes you can’t save a big momma If it is too far past the threshold of lactic acid buildup.

Gene hope this has helped. Maybe more than you asked for. If it’s not enough, give me a call. 727-896-8626. we’ll talk. About Anclote snook especially –I saw one there on the north end one day that you couldn’t catch with a chain link fence. I swear it was the largest snook I have ever had the blessing to see. anyway— go well!

Thanks, RT.”