Every year some 44 million Americans take part in recreational fishing. That’s a lot of fish. To help conserve the fish population, it only makes sense that regulations are in place to allow fishing for only certain times of the year, and often the number and size of fish that can be caught is specified.
Also, most fly fishermen and fisherwomen follow a catch and release policy for most of their fishing trips. Such environmentally conscious anglers remove the hook from fish they catch and carefully place the fish back into the water as soon as possible. This is a practice I am teaching to my kids.
The important aspect of a successful release is to make sure the fish does not become injured before it returns to the water. The act of catching a fish can cause it harm. Fish live underwater and rely on water passing through their gills to obtain oxygen. Their outside mucous membrane helps protect them from disease and must stay wet to be effective. Having a fish struggle against your hook depletes oxygen in their bodies which means that they cannot survive being out of water for very long. The experienced angler will return his fish to the water as soon as possible.
I point out to my kids that any fish they catch in shallow water can injure themselves on rocks, so it is best to try to land it in a deep pool. I encourage them to try to remove the hook while the fish is still in the water. If it is necessary to remove the fish from the water, I tell them to wet their hands before lifting the fish with two hands, supporting it by firmly grasping the tail and holding it under the belly, without touching the gills or squeezing.
I show them how to use needle-nose pliers to grasp the hook by the stem, gently pulling it back out the way it went in. If the hook is too deep in the throat, chances of survival are better if the hook is cut as close to the body as possible and left there. These hooks typically dissolve and are spit out by the fish.
My budding anglers even learn how to revive a fish once the hook has been removed. A bass should be held by the jaw and eased back into the water. Other fish should be lowered back into the water headfirst, supporting the body and moving it gently back and forth to pass water through its gills until it swims away.
If you watch carefully, you may even catch a quick “thank you” nod from your catch and release fish as they return to home grounds!