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Allpin: Handling fish the correct way

By Don Allphin herald Correspondent - | Aug 4, 2014

Several years ago while visiting Saba Island, one of the Dutch Antilles in the deep Caribbean, I was treated to a short fishing trip with a couple of medical school professors that shared ownership of fishing boat. I took a Pointer 128 minnow with me just in case I had the opportunity to fish, and as it turned out, my lure was the only one that caught a fish, a fairly small but strong Barracuda.

We really didn’t have the tools to correctly remove the hooks before releasing it, so I found myself trying to remove the three large treble hooks from the jaw of the fish while avoiding its huge mouth full of teeth as it tried to take a chunk out of my hand. In the end, I severely damaged the barracuda and although we released the fish, we all knew it wouldn’t survive the hook-removing ordeal.

Since that time, I have always gone prepared to carefully and safely remove hooks from all the fish I catch and release. Let’s take a quick look at how to insure proper care for the fish you catch and choose to release.

Ron Stewart, a regional outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) believes fish survival, especially this time of year is dependent on how we manage the entire process of catching, handling, removing hooks, and releasing the fish.

“Fish survival is all about technique and equipment, especially in the hot months of summer,” he says.

Stewart believes the techniques that will insure success in the process of catching and releasing fish are as follows:

1. Reel the fish in quickly, thus reducing lactic acid buildup.

2. Unhook the fish while keeping its gills in the water so it can continue to breathe during the process of removing the hook.

3. If the fish must leave the water, use a rubber or silicon net, and if you need to touch it, wet your hands before doing so.

4. Use forceps or needle-nose pliers to remove the hook or hooks.

Stewart’s suggestions are all about reducing the added stress fish are under during the summer. Oxygen levels decrease, and especially in Utah, where most of the rivers are used for irrigation, water levels drop, temperatures rise, and fish are concentrated in deeper holes, all of which adds to stress. When we take our time reeling in fish, removing them from the water, holding them up for a photo, roughly removing the hook, and finally getting them back in the water, the fish have been unable to breathe for up to a minute or two. This is too long for a fish to be starved of oxygen. Although some fish are resilient enough to survive the ordeal, many others will die within minutes or a few short days after being improperly handled and released.

Stewart also believes equipment can help or continue to hurt our prospects for successfully catching and releasing fish. Here are some of his suggestions:

1. Use strong, heavy tackle — pole, line and leaders to reduce the time it takes to land fish.

2. Use barbless hooks. They are easier to remove from a fish’s mouth.

3. Invest in a good silicon or rubber net, which is much easier on the fish. These nets are new-age and make a real difference in fish survival.

In my experience, most fish are resilient. However, one of the reasons trout don’t make it to the big leagues of tournament angling is that they don’t do well in live wells.

By following Stewart’s advice we should be able to successfully catch and release the great majority of the fish we target. But, if we forget to bring along the right equipment and don’t use a safe and effective method of handling our catch, many of the fish will die.

Remember, we are the stewards of our fishing resources.

Don Allphin can be reached at don@donallphin.com.


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