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Release Techniques

by: Lloyd Tackitt 11/15/2013

Catch and Release.  We talk about the catch part a lot.  We talk about the release part sometimes too.  Here are my self-imposed rules and techniques for releasing fish.

Step one:  I pinch the barb.  This serves two immediate purposes:  1.  It makes the hook easier to remove from my skin.  2.  It makes the hook easier to remove from the fish.  A lot easier.

Step two:  I try not to over-play the fish.  Over-playing a fish reportedly removes a large amount of oxygen from the fish's body.  This makes sense to me so I tend to believe it.  The lowered oxygen level causes excessive lactic acid build up.  This too makes sense to me.  I've been to the gym.  This increased lactic acid changes the overall PH of the fish's body, which can kill the fish as late as three days later.  I'm not too sure about this, but out of an abundance of caution I give it credibility, therefore I try to get the fish in as quickly as reasonably possible.

Step three:  I try not to touch the fish's slime system.   I'm not really sure this is as dangerous to the fish as some reports I've read, but generally it's simple for me to not touch the fish so why not go with it?  If I have to touch the fish's slime system I wet my hands first as this purportedly removes less slime than a dry hand will.  Probably true and easy to practice.

Step four:  Removing a barbless hook is very easy.  Most fish I can pull up out of the water a bit by letting it hang from the leader.  Then, using the other hand, I grasp the hook and give a wrist twist and the fish - untouched - falls back into the water.  Quick, simple and effective.  It helps to keep my hands dry and in better control of the fly rod too.

Step five:  If the fish is a bass and too big to use the above wrist flip I lip the bass with my thumb in his mouth - everyone knows how this is done - keeping the time out of the water to a minimum as I remove the barbless hook, then slide the bass back into the water. 

Step six:  I purchased a plastic fish gripper, it's kind of like channel lock pliers.  This is handy for large fish like buffalo or carp that are hard to handle in any manner.  These do not damage the fish and they give you a handle to work with - very nice - especially with catfish. 

Not every situation has an easy or simple way of releasing without damaging them.  For instance, once in a while a fish will take the fly down deep in it's throat.  Then I have to hold the fish and use a hemostat to get the hook out, with a barbless hook this is still fairly easy and not excessively damaging.  With a barbed hook that is down deep I cut the leader off and leave the hook in, then release.  This fish probably has a decent chance of survival as fish apparently have an acid in their system that dissolves hooks in just a few days - or so the literature out there says.  I suspect it's true, but have no personal evidence of it.

What are your techniques?  I'd like to learn more and better methods so tell me what you do.


Blog content © Lloyd Tackitt
Member comments
Flyrodn, CO   11/15/2013 8:48:00 AM
Actually Texas Parks and Wildlife has some of the better information on handling fish, and are one of the few that make the point that trophy bass (fish over 5 pounds) should not be lipped and held vertically.
Coyute, CO   11/15/2013 10:10:54 AM
Thanks for the info. One thing I seriously considered when I chose bass as my target species was their hardiness. I admire a fish that can take a licking and keep on ticking. Step seven: when releasing slimer trout, don't even think about looking at the trout funny or else they will keel over dead. :)
meenow, CO   11/15/2013 10:39:27 AM
Goof read. Barbless hooks are a good thing especially if you harass fish very often. You honestly won't lose more fish by going barbless as most anglers assume. Playing a fish for too long is not a good thing especially when it's uncalled for. It's hilarious to see an angler play a small fish like its a whale, but bad for the fish. Most anglers won't "horse" a fish in, but it's possible to bring in the biggest of fish on a tight drag. I like the quick catch and release method also, especially on big trout. It sucks when a fish enhales a streamer deep, but this is easily avoidable by paying CLOSE attention to your line to detect a strike, obviously. Rubber meshing on your net doesn't hurt either, andi when taking pix of your catch, try to have a net so you can keep the fish in the water. Shallow moving water if you fish rivers is a good bet. When taking the pic, snap one and give the fish water immediately. Never hold the fish outside of the water for no more than 3 seconds before placing the fish back into your net for the release or ONE more pic.
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/15/2013 8:32:50 PM
Everyone's making good points, and I truly appreciate the feedback. Funnly thing about learning, I do it best in an adversarial setup. I love to argue. I can argue either side of anything for as long as it takes to win. I just learn so much doing that. I mage an argument and I really do listen to the counter-argument thoroughly and dispassionately. Then I think about it. If the argument is rational and well founded, I will accede to that. If I can't come back with a better counter-counter-argument I accept that, and am very likely to accept the argument and add it to my store of what I believe is likely to be true. So, all that said what I am trying to say is that when I come back at a statment or argument for a certain position, I am in the learning mode. The only mode that has stood me well over time. Now, let me get to the real point. I do not believe, nor have I seen convincing evidece, that lifting a bass out of the water in a vertical position, regardless of size, and then releasing the bass harms that bass in any conceivable way. It's going to take a sound argument and probably some sound evidence to convice me othewise. But I'm listening, and willing to be convinced, even though I haven't been so far.
Coyute, CO   11/16/2013 9:39:43 AM
Folks that say large bass should not be lipped and held vertically are the same folks that have caught few large bass. :P
opencage, CO   11/18/2013 9:35:45 AM
I've been one of the guys who thought that debarbing hooks would lead to more lost fish. Now, I'm thinking a lot more about it, at least for flies. I've been close to hooking myself a couple times and think it's worth it for that reason alone, but also for the ease of unhooking the tiny midge flies in the winter.
Coyute, CO   11/18/2013 9:42:26 AM
If I ever got into chasing dainty trouts again, all my hooks would be barbless.
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/18/2013 10:45:46 AM
I've been going barbless for a long time and haven't noticed losing more fish than ususal, in fact I seem to hook more than before, and some of those fish were pretty big - but that's all subjective. I do know I'd rather have a barbless hook in me than a barbed one. If I had to choose.
Lloyd Tackitt
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