Catch & Release Information

Question - What is the number one thing you as a fisherman can do to dramatically increase the survivability of fish you catch?

Answer – Use flies or lures instead of bait. Research indicates that 90% of fish caught on flies or lures will survive after being released. Furthermore, there is only a 1% to 2% difference in the survival rate of fish caught on flies compared to lures.

Fish caught on bait typically suffer a much higher mortality rate. About one third (33%) of fish caught on bait will die after being released and over 60% of deep hooked fish die. In general if the fish is bleeding it will not survive.

Practicing the following guidelines will give all species of fish a greater chance of survival. Simply letting the fish go after you remove the hook is not all there is to catch and release fishing. The next time you catch a fish remember what Lee Wulff wrote in 1938; "A good gamefish is too valuable to be caught only once". Follow these general guidelines and use common sense for optimal results. Good luck and Fish On!


Use tackle and flies/lures that minimize the chance of injury to fish if you intend to release your catch. The quicker you can land the fish the better. You wouldn’t go after Lake Trout with 4 pound test line and an ultra light rod. Land your fish as carefully and quickly as possible and don't play it to exhaustion. A fish played too long can become too tired to recover. Prolonged exertion causes blood chemistry changes. Lactic acid builds up in the fish's muscle tissue, which causes the muscle cells to start decomposing from lack of oxygen and greatly decreases their chances of surviving. This can also adversely affect the flavor of the meat in fish you keep.


Experience has shown that there is a very small difference in the number of fish lost when using barbless hooks. Modern chemically sharpened hooks with the barbs pinched flat are a good choice for all situations. Use barbless hooks or circle hooks when bait fishing. You can pinch the barb flat with pliers on flies/lures you buy that are not barbless. Remember stainless steel hooks do not dissolve in stomach acid and replacing treble hooks with single hooks makes the release easier.


Stay alert and at the ready when fishing, especially bait fishing. Most fish have a very subtle bite and you need to be on your guard. By being alert you will not only hook more fish you will lip hook them instead of deep hook them.


Handle the fish as little as possible. Only net your fish if it is the only way to control it. Then make sure to use a net made of cotton mesh or rubber. It is less harmful to scales, gills, and eyes. If you must remove the fish from the water do so as gently as possible. Do not suspend fish (especially large fish) by the line, lower jaw or gills as this places enormous strain on the throat latch and will probably cause fatal injuries. In fact large fish should really never be removed from the water if you intend to release them.

Learn the "comfort lift" for small to medium sized fish. By placing your hand flat and lifting the fish out of the water by its side you will find that the fish will remain motionless for quite some time. Remember, be quick and gentle, and do not squeeze the fish. Do not hold the fish near the gills or eyes. Keep the fish in water as much as possible. A fish out of water begins to suffocate and can be injured while thrashing around.


Have a suitable place to work with the fish as you remove the hook. Wet your hands, gloves, net, towel, or anything else before touching the fish. Touching fish without wetting your hands or net removes the protective mucous (slime) coating and/or scales. This protective layer helps prevent infection by waterborne disease among other benefits. Try not to beach a fish or let it flip around the deck of the boat.


Lip Hooked - Use hemostats, needle nose pliers, or other release tools to speed up the removal of stubborn hooks. If the fish is lip hooked (barbless) simply use hemostats to grasp the hook and turn it to release the fish while it is still in the water. You don’t even need to touch it.

Mouth or Throat - If you hook a fish inside the mouth or throat and are unable to remove it with your release tools then cut the hook near the bend with side cutters as well as cutting the line as close as possible. Fish have strong digestive acids that dissolve metal. Studies have shown that fish released in this manner have a higher survival rate than do fish that have had hooks torn from their throat or stomach. The longer a fish is out of water and the more you practice your surgical techniques, the less chance the fish has.

Deep Hooked - If the fish has obviously swallowed the bait, simply cut the line off as close to the mouth as possible and allow the fish to swim away. The fish will usually be able to get rid of the hook itself if it has no barb, or it will dissolve. Never pull on the line of a deep hooked fish in an attempt to recover your hook, this will severely injure the fish and will probably kill it. Use release tools to work the hook and protect your hands. Hooks should be removed by grasping the shank of the hook and use the weight of the fish to pull the hook out. This way you will not have to squeeze the fish and will speed up the removal.

Gill Hooked - If the hook has become lodged in the gills, the situation can be more complicated. If the fish is a legal angling species, is over the size limit and is bleeding from the gills, it is probably better to kill it humanely and keep it. If there is little or no apparent bleeding or the fish is a protected species or undersize, you can try to remove the hook (without doing any more damage). Sometimes you are best to cut the hook with side cutters and then the line as close to the hook as possible. When working around the gills, always take great care not to injure the delicate gill filaments.


Revive the fish before releasing it. Gently hold it upright underwater by the tail and cradle its belly if necessary. Hold the fish facing the current when in a river or gently move the fish back and forth in still water to help move water through the gills. Give the fish as much time as needed to recover and swim away on its own, be patient. You can damage the internal organs of fish, especially larger ones, by lifting them from the water.


Fish that are already stressed by warm water temperatures or low dissolved oxygen conditions cannot handle the added stress of being caught and most likely will not survive after being released. Some local waters will have surface temperatures of 70-75 degrees. If you are catching fish in August when water temperatures are already marginal, don't plan on catching and releasing a lot of fish. Playing a fish for an extended period of time in warm water increases its chance of dying. When the water temperature is high fish tire much more rapidly due to the increase of lactic acid that builds in their system. When fishing warm water get the fish to you as soon as possible, use a heavier line test than usual.


When fishing deep water (deeper than 30 feet) most fish cannot be released with any assurance that they will survive. Bringing fish up quickly causes blood chemistry changes as well as an expansion of the air bladder to many times its normal size, often causing it to protrude out of the fish's mouth. Keeping the fish in the water and quickly releasing it so it can get back down to deeper water helps some. Puncturing the swim bladder with a needle ("fizzing") does not improve survival. Lake Trout can burp off the gases from the swim bladder when pulled up slowly, however most fish do not have this capability. Plan on keeping your catch if you are fishing deep water.


You DON'T have to measure and weigh your fish especially if you are going to release them. In fact estimating it will probably make it bigger since most people tend to over estimate their catch. If you absolutely positively must know how big your fish is then measure it quickly and release it as outlined above. Do not use portable scales because they injure the fish in several ways including gills, internal organs (due to weight), and possibly tearing the gill cover. Use the following formulas to estimate the weight (all measurements are in inches):

Walleye: Length x Length x Length divided by 2,700 For example: An 18-inch walleye weighs approximately 2.16 pounds [5,832 (18 x 18 x 18) divided by 2,700=2.16].

Pike: Length x Length x Length divided by 3,500

Sunfish: Length x Length x Length divided by 1,200

Bass: Length x Length x Girth (girth is the distance around the body) divided by 1,200

Trout: Length x Girth x Girth divided by 800

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