One thing is certain – most of today’s Florida fishing community has bought into catch and release. And articulate conservation minded experts like Tampa Bay guide Neil Taylor has championed that concept. It’s his expressed belief that fish species are under increased pressures these days by anglers, plus loss of habitat as well as water quality issues resulting from coastal development.
To aid our gamefish and ensure their survival, most guides like Taylor urge everyone to develop a good plan of action for fish that are to be released. “To begin with, one of the best things we can do is crush down the barbs on all hooks. This allows for the easy release of fish without inflicting damage to its mouth and eliminates the need for excessive handling,” he said. “This can be particularly important if using lures with treble hooks which can exact massive harm to a fish during the release.” These days, having mastered the art of keeping sufficient tension on the line when reeling a fish in, many anglers do fish with crimped barbs on their hooks. “Keeping a tight line and attending to your fishing rod, is all it takes,” said Taylor.
For live bait fishing, he recommends the use of circle hooks. This prevents gut-hooking a fish. And if that does happen, most experts suggest clipping the line as close to the hook as possible, then quickly release the fish. Taylor added that “unless you’re using stainless steel hooks, the fish’s digestive juices and the salt water should dissolve most hooks in short order.”
It’s also important that you land the fish quickly – preferably keeping it in the water. Avoid using a landing net, which tends to remove the membrane or coating on their skin. When that protection is gone the fish is exposed to infection and diseases.
Using an appropriate drag setting on the reel will reduce the time you spend battling a fish—thus mitigating the lactic acid build-up which, in turn, will require less time to revive the fish.
Have some sort of de-hooking tool handy so that you can release the fish without touching it. There are many good ones on the market .If not available a pair of needlenose pliers should get the job done – and may be even better for certain de-hooking situations. Taylor added that “in those situations where a de-hooking tool or pliers are not available, always wet your hand before touching a fish, and minimize the time a it is out of water.”
Taylor said that “it’s a good idea to start the revival of a fish before any pictures are taken. Leave it in the water until the camera is ready. Then handle your catch gently. Avoid bouncing it on the deck of the boat, seawall or dragging them across the sand to land them.”
It’s never a good idea to lift any fish vertically by the grabbing the leader or with a grip-type tool – especially larger, heavier species. And never hold fish vertically by the jaws or put your hands in the gills. Properly support the fish in a natural horizontal position and avoid laying it down on any dry surface. Quickly take your picture and get your catch back in the water immediately.
Many species will put up a strong and valiant fight. When finally reeled in they are exhausted and often in need of revival. Taylor recommends handling the tired fish in the following manner:
“After the removal of the lure or hook place the fish gently down in the water, hold it facing into the current or slowly but gently move it forward to allow a flow of water through its gills.” Most of the time, according to the FWC’s snook scientist Ron Taylor, a linesider should simply be cradled in one’s hand in the water until it regains its composure – and then allow it to swim off. He said that it’s not necessary to work water through its gills — as would be the case with most other gamefish.
The revival and release could very well be a slow process, especially after a long fight.
”When the fish is ready to swim away,” Neil Taylor said, “you will know it. That’s when you should allow it to swim off.
However, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it at that time, because sometimes you have to retrieve the fish and continue the revival process,” he said. “A redfish might often go down to the bottom and sulk – yet be adequately revived. But a snook demonstrating similar behavior, going down to the bottom, is likely not adequately revived and will probably require more of your time and effort to maximize its chances of survival.”
In many instances, especially when landing tarpon, it is not uncommon for anglers to get in the water with the exhausted silverking to make sure it recovers and swims off in good condition.
Water temperature can also have an impact on the successful release of a fish. Most species tend to revive faster in cooler water, which has more oxygen content. The reverse is true in the heat of summer. Lower oxygen in the water will require a much longer process. Whichever is the case; always take whatever time is necessary so that the fish has its very best chance at make it once it’s been released.
As concerned anglers we should all do our part in not only practicing the proper release of the many gamefish we catch, but also being stewards of the environment. Always save your trash for proper disposal ashore. If you see any plastic, cans, bottles or other debris in the water, take the few extra minutes required to pick it up and put it in the trash when you return to the ramp where they can’t harm sealife.
Contrary to what most of us believed in years gone by, fish are finite and today are under enormous pressure. It is incumbent on all of us who enjoy the sport of fishing to do all we can to preserve that valuable Florida amenity so that future generations can also experience the thrill of reeling a nice fish.
Kayak Guide Neil Taylor hosts “Strike Three Kayak Fishing” in the Tampa Bay area, and can be reached at 727-692-6345 or email: LivelyBaits@aol.com.