Kids Korner- Catch and Release Fishing

Kids Korner

Catch and Release Fishing

By Christine Cornwell



Catch-and-release fishing is when a fish is caught and then safely and carefully put back, or released, into the water where it was caught by the fisherperson, or angler. There are many reasons why an angler might do this. If there are no plans on cleaning and eating the fish that have been caught, the angler can have fun fishing and still safely put the fish back to grow bigger. 

Sometimes fish are caught when they are out of season, which means that it is illegal to keep. Or, sometimes the species of fish is in season, but it is too big or too small to legally keep. Yes, a fish can be too big to keep! This is a slot regulation, and it is meant to keep the breeding stock, or fish that are old enough to effectively reproduce, around to produce more fish. Lastly, some pond owners may not mind people fishing, but they would like all the fish that they stocked to stay in the pond for the next person to enjoy when possible. 

A fish can safely and effectively be put back in a water body after it has been caught—If a few simple rules are carefully followed. First and foremost, the fish handler needs to make sure their hands are wet with pond water before the fish is touched, every time! Fish are covered with a slime (have you felt that before?) and that slime protects the fish’s skin from germs like bacteria and fungus that are present in the environment. There are multiple reports of people who have seen handprints of disease on fish that have been handled improperly by other people, probably with dry hands. Maintaining the slime on fish skin is especially important for the long-term health of the fish.

Fish live in water, and they get their oxygen while they are in the water. That means almost all species of fish will suffocate, or die, if left out of the water for too long. Consider how long a human can hold their breath and use that comparison to treat the fish with respect. 

Having a plan will help the catch and release process go safely and quickly, allowing the safe return of the fish to the water. The plan should include wetting hands, and having the camera ready before the fish is pulled out of the water! The way the fish is taken out of the water matters, too. If the fish is small, it can safely be held by the lip. Larger fish can be held by the lip for control, but their weight also needs to be supported by putting a hand under its belly.

Holding a heavy fish by the lips will hurt both the bones in the fish’s jaw, and the soft tissues around its jaw. An angler could accidentally do some serious damage to a large fish holding it by its lip only.

All anglers, especially anglers with catch and release plans, should have a pair of fishing pliers or locking hemostats handy for de-hooking a fish. Decent, inexpensive pair of fishing pliers that float can be found in many big box stores. Hemostats, which are used by doctors for surgery are handy because they lock shut, but they are more expensive, they sink, and a little harder to find. These pliers are used to grab the hook and pull it out of the fish’s mouth. It is a lot easier to grab a hook firmly with pliers than your fingers. Remember to use wet hands when holding the fish and to get the fish back into the water as quickly as possible.

If the hook is near the fish’s lips, grasp the hook firmly with pliers and hold the fish carefully with wet hands and gently wiggle and pull the hook out. Bending the barbs down on the hook will make this easier but it also makes it easier for the fish to escape before it is reeled in.

Sometimes the fish swallows the hook, especially when fishing with bait. A swallowed hook has been taken into the fish’s mouth so far that it cannot be seen or reached by the angler. The best thing to do if this happens is cut the line as close to the hook as possible, giving the fish the best chance to live. Trying to extract, or remove the hook, will most likely cause the fish to die.

Using circle hooks may be a better option for the catch and release bait fisherperson. Circle hooks do not need to be “set” like traditional ones…the fish will most likely only get hooked in the corner of its mouth and will be much easier to release. 

If the process of removing the hook or getting a great picture takes too long, the fish can be temporarily returned to the water to “catch its breath.”  Then the angler can finish the job of removing the hook, getting a good photo and permanently returning the fish to water. 

Catch and release fishing allows many people to enjoy catching fish without reducing the fish population. In many cases, catch and release fishing can be a successful part of pond management. 

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