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How to Handle Fish After Catching? (Sustainability, Preservation)

How to release fish safely with de-hooking tools, venting tools, descending devices, and proper handling of all fish caught.

How to handle fish after they are caught is of real interest to me because I see SO MANY anglers doing it wrong. So-called ‘experts’ that routinely handle fish roughly really makes me sad at the state of our hobby sometimes.

If they don’t know how to treat fish humanely and preserve them after catching and letting go – how are you supposed to know?

” In 2018, Florida’s recreational anglers caught roughly 452 million marine fish, about 272 million of which were released.” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

How many of those released fish died? A lot. One out of every 100 fish? Probably more. One out of 20? Probably something like that. That’s 13.6 million fish that died because of improper handling.

Dry hands. Dry or hot dock/boat deck. Excessive flopping. Trauma while removing hooks. Long time to land them. Sharks.

Fish Are a Delicate Resource

The longer it takes you to pull a fish in and release it, the more it is wasting valuable energy resources and being stressed out.

Then, if you take the time to pick it up out of the water, roughly pull the hook (or worse, treble hooks) out of the fish, hold it with dry hands or let it flop around on the hot deck or concrete of the pier, you’re really doing a lot of damage to the fish. It all adds up.

Sharks are very common in Florida around piers and boats catching fish. When you let a fish go in weakened condition, it often becomes food for these toothy predators. Obviously, that’s less than ideal.

When you’re fishing, one of best rules you can go by is “Do No Harm.”

Don’t you think so?

You’re privileged to even be out there enjoying yourself and if you can’t do it in a way that does no harm to the fish, other wildlife, other people, then what good are you doing?

We should all be trying to preserve this amazing natural resource we have at our doorstep.

I read the other day that Florida has the best fishing in the WORLD. I think that’s probably right. Who else has regulated such an amazing fishery to the degree that the state has? We’ve got entire governing bodies that care a LOT about the fish and fishing and want to keep it going forever.

Problem is, we have so many people doing whatever the hell they want with total disregard to treating fish they catch with respect and CARE.

So many anglers these days seem to think their Instagram or YouTube accounts are more important than the fish they’re abusing and letting go to die in a few minutes, hours, or days because of improper handling.

So many anglers think they have to pull the 70 lb. fish out of the water to support the head and tail only so they can get that picture that will last a lifetime, and get more social media followers.

The picture is more important than the fish. They don’t give a thought to the stress on the fish as their mid-body sags under the weight they’ve never had to deal with before. Their body just isn’t built for it.

WAKE UP PEOPLE.

I think I’m working myself up into a serious rant here, so I’ll try to focus on the proper ways to handle fish without getting emotional about it with my writing. I am pissed off, but maybe I can get through this article? lol

Steps to Handling Fish Carefully to Sustain Life After Release

  1. Reel the fish in as QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE without letting it remain on the line for an excess of time. The quicker you can land the fish and release it, the better.
  2. Always USE NON STAINLESS STEEL HOOKS so stuck hooks can rust out easily and quickly, causing less damage to the fish.
  3. Consider using BARBLESS INLINE HOOKS and INLINE CIRCULAR HOOKS for catching fish. Both of these cause less damage in catching and releasing. Research shows that barbless hooks penetrate easier.
  4. If your lure has 3 sets of treble hooks, REMOVE THE MIDDLE ONE. You can also consider removing one hook on each treble to make it a double because you don’t need 3 to begin with. The experts say this, I’m conflicted a bit on this one. The less number of hooks the easier it will be to remove from the fish.
  5. WET HANDS – don’t touch a fish with dry hands, you can remove part of the protective slime layer which guards against infection. Removing the slime can leave an opening for bacteria to enter and kill the fish eventually.
  6. GENTLE HANDLING – the fish you just landed isn’t a football to throw on the ground and let it flop around because you’re too afraid to grab the tail and steady it. Don’t let the fish hit the deck of the boat or the ground and flop around endlessly. The ground is probably dry too, causing breaks in the slime layer. Not to mention stressing the heck out of the fish as it hits itself in the head over and over with each flop.
  7. If not keeping the fish, REMOVE THE HOOK WHILE IN THE WATER if possible. This reduces stress.
  8. Be EXTRA CAREFUL with SEATROUT. The surface area of the seatrout is very delicate and prone to infection. Be very careful to keep all surfaces wet. Seatrout handling video >
  9. CONSIDER USING A KNOTLESS RUBBER-COATED LANDING NET which is much easier on all fish.
  10. Use a DE-HOOKING TOOL when you can’t easily grab and control the hook while de-hooking. Learn how to use it first. Here’s a how-to use a de-hooking device video.
  11. If your caught fish is gut-hooked, or deeply hooked, CUT THE LINE as close as possible to the hook. Eventually the hook will dissolve and hopefully before the fish dies from the stress.
  12. USE A DESCENDING DEVICE or DEFLATING DEVICE (venting tool) for deepwater fish suffering barotrauma. Here is a how-to video >
  13. DO NOT LIFT A FISH OUT OF THE WATER ONLY BY THE MOUTH.
  14. DO NOT STICK YOUR HAND IN THE GILLS.
  15. When releasing the fish KEEP IT MOVING FORWARD in the water until it regains strength before letting it go.
  16. Use a LIP-GRIPPING DEVICE as you release the fish so you don’t need to touch it with your hands.
The ethical angler does this list of things to maintain healthy Florida fishery, preservation, and sustainability.

Even more information is available at the FWC page for Fish Handling here >