Catch and release is a fishing practice acting as a technique of conservation. Many recreational anglers practice catch and release, and on certain lakes and rivers, such practice is even required.
However, even though this method would seem friendly to the fish, eco-friendly in general, just by hooking a fish you can cause it a lot of damage, and by releasing it you actually sentence it to a very long and painful death. So, if you want to do this right, here are a few tips.
Aspect #1: Hooks
First of all, you probably have heard that certain hooks are made of specific alloys that are quickly degradable, especially in salt water. That might be true, but releasing the fish with a hook in its throat or in its stomach is far from being the right thing. Even if the hook will rust and decompose rather quickly, and even if the fish gets another chance to lay or fertilize eggs, the hook inside it will most likely cause a bacterial infection, and the fish will eventually die.
I once caught quite a big northern pike, it was about a 109 cm (3.5 feet) long, but it was so thin, I first thought it was an eel. The fish was evidently sick, and not surprisingly, I found a big, rusty hook in its stomach, surrounded by an extensive infection. The fish would have probably died eventually. I wonder for how long the poor thing had been struggling with that inside it.
So, as a conclusion to this, if you’re practicing catch and release, it would be best to go with bigger hooks than the number appropriated for the fish you’re targeting, so that they won’t swallow them easily, even though this may diminish the number of fish you’ll land. Also, use barbless hooks, even if there’s a bigger chance for the fish to spit them out, or unhook themselves. And when it comes to treble hooks, well, these can cause quite a lot of damage to the fish, so it would be best not to use them.
Aspect #2: Fishing Line
The second important aspect about catch and release regards the fishing line. Sometimes line can snap and the fish goes away with 20-30 feet of line, or even more. Evidently, the line can (and probably will) get tangled in weeds and tie the fish in a certain spot, making it vulnerable to predators, or making it impossible for it to feed. Or, it can wrap around its fins, considerably impair its movement, damaging its slime coating, making it vulnerable to infections.
On the other hand, even if fish can eventually spit the hook and releave itself from the piece of fishing line attached to the hook, the line can still be very dangerous to other wild life. Aquatic birds or mammals like beavers or otters can tangle into it, and even lose their limbs trying to releave themselves.
Now, to avoid line from snapping and to prevent the fish getting away with it, first, polish your technique and never make any mistakes that will allow the fish to break the line. Thoroughly check the condition of the line on all your setups before any fishing session. If it’s to worn off, replace it. Also, you even though some fish are really spooky, you might consider using stronger (and most likely easily visible) line, to avoid the line to break. Fluorocarbon line, for example, is less visible in the water, and even if it’s more expensive, it might be the best solution.
Aspect #3: Fish Slime Coating
Some fish, especially the ones with small scales, like the Salmonidae (trout, salmon etc), Esocidae (pike, muskie etc), or Siluriformes (all catfish species) which don’t have scales but just a thick skin or bony plates, strictly depend on their slime coating. That coating acts as a protection against fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms and parasites. If you catch a pike, for example, and handle it too much, you will most likely ruin its slime coating, the fish will become susceptible to infections, and might die.
Therefore, it’s best to not bring the fish to the boat if possible, handle it as less as possible, and even consider unhooking it while it’s still in the water. If you still want to photograph the fish, make sure you wet your hands to remove as less slime as possible. Also, when practicing catch and release, it’s best not to use a net.