Many of us can remember going fishing as youths and coming home with the “big” catch of the day. Frying up one’s catch and enjoying a good meal was a great end to a perfect day of fishing. While it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy one’s catch for dinner, fishing itself has changed in the last two decades. Catch and release is now a widely used method and it is not any more difficult than catch and keep. If you are wondering just how to go about switching to catch and release fishing, here are some tips that you will find helpful.

It is a good idea to understand the “why” of releasing your catch, in order to better appreciate the “how”. Nearly every fisherman can understand that fish are indeed a valuable resource. In some area’s fish might not be as abundant and releasing one’s catch is a great way to keep stock plentiful in your rivers, streams, and lakes. Keep in mind too that depending on your local fishing rules, put out by fish and game departments, you may have caught a smaller fish than allowed or you have limited out and wish to keep fishing. Preservation is a key word in the catch and release method.

So how do you begin? Remember that fish stand an excellent chance of survival if you handle them properly. Time is important, so as soon as you hook a fish you need to make the decision to release. Exhaustion plays a major role, so land the fish quickly. Something too that fisherman may not think of is setting the hook quickly. A swallowed hook can mean a dismal survival rate. If you are fishing deep water, bring the fish in slowly to give it a chance to adjust to pressure changes. Don’t use barbed hooks and do not use rusty hooks. This gives the fish an opportunity to recuperate without a big risk of infection.

How the fish is handled also makes a tremendous difference in its survival. If possible you want to leave the fish in the water while you use your hook removal tool. This keeps the fish cool and wet. Also try to keep the fish from thrashing and do not use a net, if possible, to avoid damaging the fish. In the event you have to handle the fish, try to adhere to the following: Use a wet rag or glove, do not put your fingers in the eyes or gills of the fish, avoid removing mucus or scale, turn the fish on it’s back on cover it’s eyes, and get it back in the water quickly. These steps will help to avoid injury to the fish and help keep the fish exhaustion level at a minimum.

I believe most fishermen are adept at removing a hook; still you will want to keep these points in mind. If the hook is deep within the fish or you believe it cannot be removed quickly, then cut the leader close to the fish’s mouth. Always try to back the hook out the opposite way it came in. In other words, do not rip it out and cause further injury to the fish. Tools of choice include needle-nose pliers, a hookout, or even hemostats. Believe it or not, these tools can save the fish and you from risk out injury. Nothing dampens a fishing trip more than a hook in a finger. Whatever you do, do not try to jerk the hook out by grabbing the line and pulling. This can cause fatal injuries to the fish. If you happen to be fishing for bigger catch, than try to slip a gaff around the leader and slide it to the hook. Lifting the gaff upwards, while pulling down on the leader.

When the fish is ready for release, place it gently into the water. Don’t throw it back or give it a belly flop into the water. Support the mid section and tail of the fish gently. It will swim away when it is ready. If your fish is overly tired, carefully move it back and forth. This will help force water through the gills and give it a good boost of oxygen. Watch the fish after release. If it does not swim away, then recover the fish and go through the steps again. This will only take a minute or two of your time and helps to give the fish a solid chance to recover. Saltwater or deep-water fishermen may have to take an extra step. If the fish cannot right itself or shows a distended air bladder, the bladder should be gently punctured. Carefully insert a thin point through the side of the fish just behind the upper part of the pectoral fin base. Using a fine knife blade or even wire works well. Let the air escape on it’s own. Do not press the fish as that may cause major injury.

p>While it may seem like a lot of steps, in truth it is just a minute or two of action. By doing so, you save a fish to repopulate and thereby make more fun for yourself on another day. You give the best possible opportunity for a fish to recover without injury or risk of infection. One other word of note is to always check your local fish and game regulations. They may have more on the subject and possibly have restrictions for certain bodies of water. More and more areas are open to fishing, but only to barbless hooks. Knowing how to deal with that type of fishing can make for a more pleasurable day.

Dean Carl has enjoyed fishing with family and friends nearly all of his life. Dean feels sharing fishing stories and reliving the “one that got away” is a necessary part to enjoying the great sport of fishing we enjoy today. His stories are shared courtesy of []