Q and A

Q. What’s the best way to handle a fish for catch and release?

A. 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 livewell 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.

Although it is tempting, don’t lift a large fish by the lower jaw. The weight of the fish hanging from the lower jaw can tear ligaments in the isthmus (the narrow stretch of flesh between the underside of the gills). These ligaments are essential for opening and closing the jaw during feeding, so damage can inhibit feeding for a long time. Some work in Australia suggests that holding the weight of a large fish by the jaw can stretch the spine, possibly separating the vertebrae, which causes death within a few days.

If you want a photo of the fish, try to do so while keeping the fish in the water until you are ready for the picture. Then lift the fish from the water briefly for the photo, supporting it under the head and anal fin. You can see more on catch and release practices here.