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.