Most fly anglers today would agree that catch and release practices are important in promoting healthy fisheries. Not only is it beneficial to the well being of our sport, but having the opportunity to release a fish back to the wild to fight another day, is an event most of us would agree adds to the experience.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that not all fish that are released survive the episode of being caught. The stress associated with being caught and handled kills more fish than most anglers realize. Odds are you are well aware of this fact, but in case you were not, we’re glad you decided to stop by! Simply releasing a fish back into the water does not guarantee the survival of the fish, it is the steps taken prior to the release that makes all the difference.
We recently received a summary of a new report released by Trout Unlimited on handling stress and the effects on fish from catch and release fishing. We weren’t surprised to read that the two factors that contribute most to fish mortality when caught were angling duration (the amount of time a fish is played before being released) and air exposure (the amount of time the fish is out of the water), and hopefully you aren’t either. However, we did find some of their findings extremely interesting, and think you will too. For example..
- 15-20 Seconds. According to the report, a fish should never be out of the water longer than 15-20 seconds. After this length of time, the survival rate of released fish drops fast. In fact, one study found that rainbow trout had an 88% survival rate when exercised to simulate being caught. However, once exposed to air for 30 seconds, the survival rate dropped to only 62%! So, once you’ve landed your fish and removed the fly (in the water of course), make sure everything is ready to go before hoisting him out of the water for a photo. Aim for one big lift for that hero shot (closer to the water is better), before putting him right back in the water.
- Long Fights Mean High Stress. The amount of time the fish is played is one of the largest contributing factors of stress on a fish. According to the report, some studies have shown that up to 89% of fish played to exhaustion die after being released. You don’t have to be a statistician to know that’s not good. Use as heavy gear you can get away with (within reason of course), and put the steam on! You may be surprised you’ll land more fish by doing so!
- Learn to Remove Hooks. The report also mentioned that some studies found that more fish were harmed by novice anglers, due to a longer time required to remove hooks. This shouldn’t be discouraging to any novice anglers out there.. Practice makes perfect! However, if you think you might be in this category, try this exercise. Take an orange (or similar fruit) and stick the hook point of a fly into the peel. Grab the hook with your forceps, and rotate your wrist in the opposite direction of the hook bend. Practice until you are comfortable removing hooks quickly and safely.
In summary of the report, the good folks of TU offered some ‘common sense’ guidelines that every angler should abide by in order to minimize stress to the fish. Be a responsible angler and follow suit!
Minimize angling duration (the time a fish is played and handled for hook removal).
Minimize air exposure by removing hooks with the fish in water and photographing fish quickly.
Use barbless hooks and artificial lures/flies.
Use rubber nets void of knots that protect fish scales and mucous.
Avoid angling during extremes in water temperature.