The practice of catch and release is the most practical way a fly fisherman or woman can benefit fisheries long term. After doing some further research and by talking to the friendly staff and guides at Minturn Anglers, I learned a number of tips that will give fish I release the best chance for survival. I plan to use these approaches all the time, and share them with others.
Decide Where You Will Fish
Fishing off a 15 foot high bridge or from the other side of a rocky embankment will not let me release a fish safely and gently. From now on, my decision about a fishing spot will take into account how best I can release a fish without causing injury to it.
Choose the Right Tackle
Fish caught with lures or flies with single hooks will have the best chance for a successful release. If you are using bait, use circle hooks to avoid deeply hooking a fish.
Use Barbless Hooks
Pinch down the barbs on hooks to make it easier and faster to release fish. I saw a good selection of barbless hooks at the Minturn Anglers fly shop and picked up a few for my own collection.
Don’t Play the Fish Longer Than Needed
If you fight or play with your fish longer than needed, it will exhaust the fish unnecessarily and cause lactic acid to build up in its system. Even if it swims away, it can die days later because of this toxic accumulation.
Try Not to Remove the Fish from the Water
Keeping the fish in the water greatly improves its chances for survival. You can simply remove the hook with your hand or pliers while the fish is in the water, and let it swim away. Staff at Minturn Anglers gave me some dramatic examples of what this can mean. Imagine having your own air cut off. A fish that is out of water for a minute has a greatly reduced chance of survival, and one that is out of water for more than three minutes has almost no chance of survival, even it if swims away.
This is a good start to protecting our fish population and our sport. Watch for Catch and Release 101 Part 3 of this series for more tips on how to catch and release fish safely.