Catching fish never gets old, so if you want to have a healthy population in the future, it’s important that anglers handle them properly.
Most likely, you’re already doing things right, but it never hurts to review the basics. With the right techniques and a little knowledge about fish anatomy, you can help the population stay strong, ensuring great fishing for years to come.
Once you hook a fish, your goal should be to get it off the line as quickly as possible. While the fish is on your line, it is fighting and thrashing, so the longer it stays on, the greater the chance it will overexert itself. Don’t let the fish stay on your line for longer than needed. This will help the fish recover faster and go on to live a full, healthy life, hopefully making lots of babies for you to catch in the future.
If you have done a lot of fishing, you have probably noticed the slime coating that most species have on their bodies; it’s there to protect the fish from disease and infection. This slime acts as a first line of defense against parasites and bacteria, but it can be wiped away when handled by anglers. When you land a fish, do your best to avoid wiping off this protective coating by touching the body of the fish as little as possible.
While we’re on the topic of protective slime coating, it helps to wet your hands when handling fish. Dry hands are more likely to scrape off the fish’s coating, so quickly dip your paws in the water before you reel the fish into the boat.
The common way to handle bass is to put your thumb in the mouth and use the lower jaw as a handle. When you do this, make sure you are holding the jaw vertically. If you bend their mouth at an angle, you create the possibility of straining and even breaking their jaw, especially on larger bass. If you want to hold the fish horizontally, make sure you support the belly to create less stress on the jaw.
The bodies of large, heavy fish, like muskie or barracuda, can’t handle their own weight out of water, so holding them vertically by the gills or jaw (with a grabber for toothy fish) can create a lot of stress. When you are capturing a photo of these impressive fish, hold them vertically, with one hand in the gill or head area and the other supporting the body.
The more time a fish spends out of water, the greater the possibility it will die. Many anglers suggest only keeping a fish out of water for the amount of time you can hold your breath. Others draw the line at one minute or more. All you really need to remember is the less time out of water, the greater chance of survival, so get them off the line, take your picture, and return them as soon as you can.
Finally, remember to return the fish as gently as possible. You don’t have to delicately place the fish in the water (it won’t hurt), but you should avoid tossing or throwing the fish an unneeded distance. Even small fish that won’t hit the water as hard can be shocked by a throw, so treat them with respect and give them the return they deserve.
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