The phrase “catch and release” has become increasingly frequent in the angler's vocabulary, and for good reasons. It is a management practice that can put the angler in control. Studies on trout streams and largemouth bass lakes have demonstrated that catch and release can be a very sound method for maintaining quality fisheries.
Several national wildlife refuges mandate catch and release for some game fish in order to protect the stock and to assure an adequate breeding population of that particular species. But it must be practiced correctly before it delivers any benefit.
Here are a few simple rules to increase the success of catch and release:
- Never play a fish to complete exhaustion. Use tackle of sufficient strength for the potential size of your quarry.
- If possible, unhook the fish while it is in the water.
- Try to avoid handling the fish. If you must handle it, thoroughly wet your hands in advance to avoid undue disturbance of its mucous coating, the protective secretion that helps keep a fish healthy.
- If you must remove a fish from the water, please keep its “air time” to a minimum. Studies have shown that a species such as the brook trout can suffer gill desiccation (drying) in as little as 20 seconds. The more damage to a fish's gill tissue, the greater the likelihood the fish will perish.
- Try using one of the newer landing nets, which feature a soft rubber mesh (instead of cloth mesh) net bag. They are much easier on the skin and mucous membrane.
- Be aware of water temperatures. A trout caught in warming waters (especially near that threatening 70-degree temperature zone) may not survive upon release. It might be wiser to wait and fish on a cooler day.
- Catch and release is most effective when anglers show restraint. While you might be able to catch 100 fish in a day at some refuges, that doesn't mean all will survive when released. In fact, the mortality percent could be far higher than that of an angler who wanted to catch just one or two fish for the pan.