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Is Your Large lake Trout Really Alive After Releasing It?

Blog by: Tracy Featherston , CO 1/22/2014
I have been reading a lot of debate lately about what is ethical or not about releasing large lake trout. Let me say this, all lake trout should be released if measured over twenty inches. It is my belief that lake trout are under attack in this state and will never be stocked in our reservoirs again. So that leads to the need of releasing all lake trout over twenty inches. I wonít get into why I think lake trout are under attack, but rather the release of the fish and whether or not you are prepared to do it.

If you are a lake trout fisherman, are you taking every step needed to make sure the fish you release will survive?  Iím willing to bet you donít know the answer to that question. If you release a trophy lake trout ice fishing, the fish might kick away, but did the fish die later, fifteen feet away from under the ice? Even I donít know that, but I have researched the methods and have applied them to my release methods.

1. I know from experience that lake trout have issues releasing their bladder bags when a fisherman reels in too fast.
2. I know that when reeled in too slow the bladder bag might release air, but the fish might succumb to fatigue.
3. I know that any lake trout hooked below thirty-five feet might have an issue with being too buoyant at the surface and cannot dive until the air is released.
4. I know if I use fishing line that is not heavy enough, the fish is on the line too long.

Here is a list of conditions and circumstances that I plan for every time I fish for lake trout.
1. What depth do I plan on fishing at?
2. Do I have good fishing line and the correct strength?
3. Do I have a net big enough to support the fish?
4. Is the equipment I use to release fish available at an armís length?
5. What depth did I hook the fish at, so I can return the fish to that depth, the same as when it was hooked?
6. Have a plan of attack when the fish is at the surface?
7. Is the net and camera ready?
8. What will I do when the fish is at the surface? (With the fish still in the net remove the hook. Gently remove the fish from the net and take the picture as fast as you can)

When I hook a large lake trout, I do not spend a lot of time with the fight. (To tell the truth, large lake trout really donít put up the fight you might think they would.) I think large lake trout caught deeper than thirty-five feet, fight to different depth levels until air is released and then fights again when reeled to the next level. 

The lakersaver is the best method to release fish back to the level I hooked the fish at. I use my down rigger (like the lakersaver) to put the fish back to the level the fish was hooked at, by watching the fish finder. I attach a blunt hook to the lower jaw of the fish, lower the downrigger to the depth the fish was hooked at, stop the downrigger, shake the cable and watch the fish maintain the released level when I bring the downrigger weight up.

The lakersaver can and should be applied to ice fishing as well. This is the easiest method to release large lake trout. I see some threads that talk about venting bladders, but where do I put the needle and do I kill the fish because I placed the needle 2mm too far to one side?

When I first started catching big lake trout, it broke my heart when I had one fish I couldnít revive, because it wouldnít dive and then eventually died. I was ignorant to what I should do in case the situation arrived. I have been using this method for about ten years now. I fish with a lot of quality lake trout fisherman, and almost none of them have a plan for releasing a fish that wonít dive.

When I see threads about the ethics of releasing large lake trout, it makes me think about the survival rates of the released fish. I donít know what they are, but I think if one dies thatís too many.  You can save a trophy lake trout by thinking about and having a plan in advance, on what you can do as an individual fisherman about your own release methods. Be prepared!

Itís up to us lake trout fisherman to conserve the resource we have and release all fish over 20 inches and to know what to do when releasing them.

Tracy Featherston

Blog content © Tracy Featherston
Blog Comments
alanlf5280, 1/22/2014 7:28:34 AM
Great blog MAC and thanks for sharing the lakesaver method. I landed my first trophy laker last year and was unable to release her successfully. As I look over your list of releasing methods, I can see a few where I failed to use the proper gear for a fish of that size. Next time, I will be prepared.
RPG, 1/22/2014 7:33:54 AM
Very thoughtful advice.
TigerHunter, 1/22/2014 7:38:02 AM
Great blog Tracy!!! Can you shoot me an email when you get a chance
IceFishingFool, 1/22/2014 8:08:18 AM
Right on Tracy !
Flyrodn, 1/22/2014 8:09:33 AM
The lakersaver device you mentioned here is something I've heard mention in news items from the Florida coast. Regulations have existed requiring "fizzing" equipment where boats are fishing in deep saltwater. Florida Fish and Game is phasing out some of those regs for various reasons, but deep water release tools are being mentioned as a viable alternative. Probably a better one at that.
FISHRANGLER, 1/22/2014 8:34:29 AM
On Catifish1 Big Blues were being pulled out of 100 FOW and not being burped on their way up. Most of these people had never heard of a fish Dieing after release because of bladder issues. I helped educate a few anglers about burping on that forum. I think it should be talked about a little more in depth, Even Walleye anglers run into issues when releaseing fish caught past 40 FOW if not brought up slow enough. Now these two species are a little tougher and can handle being on the line a little longer. With trout species fighting them longer to release the gases is probably not good for them. The lakesaver device is probaly the best tool for lakers. And you really need to know what your doing to use the Needle devises. I have read in the past and it has been recomended on the local forums people should puncture the blatters on lakers through the mouth, that is not the correct way of doing things so please DO NOT do it that way.
lewdog, 1/22/2014 8:47:27 AM
Well I don't know about 20". If its up closer to 26 would release em. Don't worry though as I never caught any fish over 22. Maybe before this summer I will get a biggun. Good info though thanks.
redleader, 1/22/2014 8:47:58 AM
At Granby after releasing 100s of large Lake trout I have rarely need to use the laker saver. I rarely target Lakers in deep water in the Summer when they are most vulnerable to mortality though. If brought up slowly they always do fine through the ice. I have noticed the smaller lakers caught in deep water that anglers reel up as fast as they can to keep from losing get bloated and can't swim down.
shiverfix, 1/22/2014 8:52:25 AM
The organ that protrudes through the mouth of a fish that has a bloated swim bladder is the stomach, not the swim bladder. The swim bladder will not push out through the mouth for physiological reasons. If you puncture this you are puncturing the stomach and killing the fish.
redleader, 1/22/2014 8:52:25 AM
Keeping time out of the water to an absolute minimum, have camera ready be prepared, keep your hands out of their gills, if you want to weigh them use a net or cradle and using Single barbless hooks are all great tactics to make sure you have a successful release. Yes that means get rid of the multiple trebles if you troll and change them out to Single hooks. I do that on all mine.
shiverfix, 1/22/2014 9:22:59 AM
I'm trying to find information on which fish have the swim bladder attached to the stomach and can control it through gulping and burping. Goldfish are the most common example, they gulp air and you can see bubbles being release sometimes. It looks like trout and salmon have physostomous swim bladders, meaning they can gulp and burp air. This means their swim bladders can be regulated much quicker. Other fish, like bass, perch, and rockfish (saltwater) have physoclist swim bladders which are regulated through the blood steam, so it takes much longer to empty the swim bladder. This means that it doesn't matter how slowly you bring them up, they won't be able to empty the swim bladder before reaching the surface. I haven't been able to find yet if walleye have physostomous or physoclist swim bladders, mostly because I am at work at most of the scholarly sites are blocked...
FISHRANGLER, 1/22/2014 9:42:01 AM
shiverfix Thanks for letting me know it was the stomach, I did not know that, so that would be a bad thing for sure to puncture that. When I did the research a while back on this I found that some people think the bladders are located in the same place on all fish. This is not true, the guys using the needles need to really know where to use them.
Coyute, 1/22/2014 10:06:07 AM
Thanks for the info.
redleader, 1/22/2014 10:59:20 AM
No one recommends needles anymore deep water release on fish that can't release their air will be fine as long as you use a deep water release tool
shiverfix, 1/22/2014 11:09:20 AM
redleader, I am amazed at how many sites still advocate fizzing. The Pacific coast seems to be where the paradigm is really shifting away from fizzing and to deep water release, though it looks like the east coast is catching up.
Kev-o, 1/22/2014 11:25:40 AM
Great blog with great info thanks Mac!
opencage, 1/22/2014 8:28:42 PM
Thanks for the write up Tracy, that's good advice. I'd never heard of the lakersaver before. A seemingly simple idea.
JOHN_COSprings, 1/23/2014 7:55:41 AM
Great post Tracy. Your 8 points to think of before you actually catch a fish could and should be applied to all species.
Tbubb, 1/23/2014 8:47:08 AM
Interesting thoughts - thanks for offering them. Interesting that my "soft limit" for releasing lakers has always been right around 20#, but that was based on the "common-ness" of that size of fish (At WF). Give or take an inch. Also - I fish in 40FOW, perhaps that contributes to why they always seem to swim off and down when I release them. Never got a true hog though. Nothing over 28" that I ever actually pulled through a hole,
IceFishingFool, 1/23/2014 9:29:02 AM
Glad Steve added the comment about single hooks, for the most part trebles only get tangled in nets. Making the whole process much more difficult.
fishmohr, 1/23/2014 5:33:41 PM
You make a great point about being prepared. It is even more important when you are fishing alone. Nice job on a very informative blog.