Welcome to Panfish!

Part One Hundred-fourty-one

Releasing Panfish

By Tom Keith

Bass fishermen seem to be a little more eager to release their fish than panfishermen, unless they catch a truly large fish and want to have it mounted for the den or photographed to show their friends. Taking an occasional fish, even a large bass, won't upset the population, but removing several large fish each time out from the same body of water can have a detrimental effect.

While catch and release is a worthwhile practice in most cases, it does have its limitations. Some fishermen think if the fish they return to the water swims away, it's guaranteed to live a long life, pack on the pounds and be available to fight again another day. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

The natural tendency when you hook at large fish is to fight it slowly and deliberately, lift it from the water to unhook it, take a good look at it, hold it up for everybody else to see, take a few pictures, then ease it back into the water and let it go. The chances of the fish surviving after being treated in this manner are pretty slim. Even if it swims away and appears to be alright, it may die within a few hours.

If you are going to release fish, do it right!
Here's how:

    1. Never play a fish to total exhaustion. Biologists say when a fish becomes overly fatigued, chemical changes in its body can cause its death, even though the angler handles it properly after it is landed.

    2. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. It is often easy for a fly fisherman to pluck his fly from the fish's lip without removing the fish from the water at all, or touching it with either hand. To accomplish this on a lightly-hooked fish, grasp the fly between thumb and forefinger and bend and twist the fly downward in one motion, backing the fly out of the fish's lip tissue. This is most easily accomplished with barbless hooks, thought it can be done with flies tied on standard hooks. In fact, the fish will often make a final flip as it is being led toward the angler and release itself. That's when the experienced angler smiles and says something like, "Hey, how'd you like that beautiful release?"

    3. If the fish must be handled, be sure to wet your hands before touching it. Handling a fish with dry hands can remove the mucous covering that guards the fish against bacterial and fungal infections.

    4. Always handle a fish carefully. Don't squeeze it, don't put your fingers into or on its gills, and don't put your fingers in its eye sockets.

    5. Fish taken on flies are rarely hooked deep in their mouths or throats. But, if a fish you want to release is deeply hooked, cut the leader as closely to the eye of the hook as possible and leave the hook embedded in the fish rather than trying to force the hook free. The fish may be severely injured if you try to remove the hook, but if you leave it alone, the fish's digestive juices will dissolve the hook in a comparatively short period of time and the fish will have a much better chance of surviving.

    6. When you release a fish, lower it gently into the water as quickly as possible after catching it. Cradle it upright in the water with your hand until it has regained its equilibrium. Move the fish back and forth in the water very slowly so water moves across its gills, replenishing oxygen in its body.

    7. Treat any fish you catch gentle because it deserves your respect. Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and crappie can be easily handled by grasping the lower jaw, but bluegill's mouth is so small it's easier to grasp it across the back. Slide your hand along its back from its head towards its tail so your palm presses the dorsal fin flat against its back, so it doesn't flare the fin and stick your hand.

The proper handling and release of a fish is an important basic fishing skill that should be considered to be just as important as learning to hook and play it. ~ Tom Keith

Credit: From Fly Tying and Fishing for Panfish & Bass by Tom Keith, published by Frank Amato Publications. We greatly appreciate use permission.

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