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On 702 Talk Radio

Catch and Release

Catch and release is critical for sustainable trophy fishing


Catch and Release – “Let it GO, Let it GROW”

Most of us love the thrill of fishing and do it as a pass time, not for subsistence and to continue doing this, we need to have good practices in place. To ensure the fish we catch get a chance to grow and fight us at a later stage. This is more towards freshwater fish, and some techniques vary, these are just the basics that I assume most anglers practice.
Sustainable fishing is no longer an option for us, if we would like to keep fishing for the next decade, and if we want to pass on the sport to younger generations we have no option but to focus more on catch and release.

I am not at all saying that you should not eat a trout or any other species you target every now and then, be it within the laws of the water you fish, by all means take the fish home, but please, rather catch and release than letting fish go old in a fridge and either being fed to the pets or the dustbin?

According to studies done, fish that are caught and released may die from several causes post release, but the two main ones are stress and wounding. You can minimize the risk for the fish by following basic steps. Please note the mortality in some cases are days after the event, and you might think that because the fish is swimming away it will survive, this might not be the case, but you can minimize the risk by applying basic catch and release principles.

1. Use barb-less hooks.
Most catch and release venues these days do not allow the use of barbed hooks anymore. Barb-less hooks minimizes time spend on unhooking as well tissue damage due to a smaller entry wound. A secondary benefit is when you inevitably hook yourself it’s merely a pin prick and not a visit to the nearest accident and emergency.

Land the fish as quickly as possible.
I know a lot of people, who have the goal of the heaviest fish on the lightest tackle, and I have been there myself, however this is not good for the fish.
There is loads of research available and one of the main contributors to fatalities in released fish is Lactic acid.
This is very similar to your muscles aching after running. Lactic Acid is a natural by-product of working muscles. When fish have normal blood oxygen levels, (swimming normally) their muscles function aerobically (full of oxygen) with very little lactic acid produced. When the supply of oxygen in their blood is depleted (when fighting to get away) more and more lactic acid is produced. Similar effect on your system between you walking around a soccer field, or sprinting around as if your life depends on it. You muscles will hurt after sprinting, and you could even be stiff the next day. Fish may experience numerous metabolic abnormalities due to this, and it could make them vulnerable to predators as well. This condition is further worsened by the lack of oxygen from long periods of air exposure while the fish is handled and photographed. You will think that as the fish swam away it is fine, but it could well be in distress and die.

Fish out of water.
Catch and release does not mean you can`t take the fish out of the water to weigh or take a picture, it’s just a way of doing it in a manner that would minimize the risk of the fish getting injured or killed.
When a fish is out of water they aren’t taking in any Oxygen, as they can’t breathe without water. This while they have to “catch their breath” after the fight, will exacerbate the lactic acid damages.
You should always try and release the fish in the water or the net – by keeping it in the water as much as you can. You should use long nose pliers or if you have one a haemostat to get the hook out. If you don’t have one you could always, visit our online store.

There are various landing nets on the market, I suggest you carry one as big as you can handle, to ease the landing process. When you purchase the net make sure that the webbing is knot-less. I would recommend the rubber ones on the market today. This will minimize damage to the fish`s fins, gills, eyes and body. Always make sure the landing net is wet all over before landing the fish, to avoid damage to its slime layer. A lot of products these days, have a “catch and release” logo on them, generally these products are safe to use.

For safe catch and release this is very important, when you have to handle the fish, make sure your hands are wet, and take of your gloves before you do. Keep your fingers away from the gills. Be careful not to squeeze the fish and give it as much support underneath as possible. Make sure not to damage the scales. If you want to take a picture, keep the fish in the water, belly up and eyes covered this disorientates the fish to minimize stress and struggles, until the photographer is ready. When you lift the fish support it with one hand behind the front fins and your other hand just in front of the tail fin. Take pictures as quickly as possible. I always say that you should hold your breath the time the fish is out of the water, if you can`t hold any more, it’s likely they fish cant either. Try and limit time out of water. A fish have a very soft skeleton when out of the water as its made to be in water, any hard handling could result and organ damage especially in the stomach area, this is not at all good practice for catch and release fisherman.

Never ever take the fish out of the water and let it flop around on the ground or grass. And please never step on it to keep it still, unless you plan to keep the fish, but in that case use a priest and don’t let the fish suffer. For Catch and release handling of fish outside the water I promote the use of a landing mat when handling a fish on the banks; also known as unhooking mat. This can be bought at a specimen angling store, as they are focussed on catch and release best practises, the even sell medicine to put on wounds.
When using a landing mat make sure it is properly wet before you put the fish on it. Why use a landing mat? Usually the grass or ground is dry and (this you would have noticed if you have done this before) stick to the skin of the fish that means it damages the protective layer of slime, and opens the skin up to infections. There is usually something hard such as sticks in grass and this could puncture the fish as well. Again, please keep the time out of water to the minimum.

Photographing your fish
When taking a picture, I know a lot of people who believe in the classic fishing pictures, you know the one where the fish hangs on the line next to you holding the rod, or the fish sideways while you holding it by the mouth. This is almost certain death to the fish. Firstly hanging a fish up by the hook could tear throat ligaments. Similarly the shot where you hold the fish, and this is more common with bass, by the mouth, almost certainly injuring the cartilage in its jaw and making it difficult for the fish’s mouth to function properly, and kills the fish. There have been studies done on the damages caused by hanging a fish with a Boga Grip, I see red when I see pictures of fish hanging by their jaws totally unsupported; see here for details, or here. Google will provide plenty more material in this regard.

Releasing the fish
Sometimes overlooked in catch and release practices is the actual release of the fish, throwing it into the water from a distance is definitely not the way to go. We should always do our best in releasing the fish safely.
The correct way of releasing the fish would be to place it back in the water as fast as you can after landing it. Hold it gently in your hands, you can move it forward slowly to let water flow across its gills in still waters or face it upstream in flowing water. Make sure your hands are not covering the gills, they need to be able to open and close, or you will suffocate the fish. This is also called reviving the fish.
When you feel it beginning to struggle, let it go, this could take some time, but is very important. Rule of thumb here is reviving the fish for as long as you fought it.
Sometimes a fish will be to badly injured to return, and that happens, use the priest effectively and enjoy for dinner.

What to do when your line is snagged and its fish on?
I don’t expect anybody to climb into freezing water like in this video to untangle a fish, but please consider the fish. I personally do my best as seen to ensure the risk to the fish is minimum. The shorter the line tied to the fish, the smaller the risk of the fish being tangled and unable to feed and dying stuck to your loose fishing line. This could also be seen as part of catch and release best practices.

Final note: We all want a trophy fish at one time or another in our lives, and if we don’t catch and release, we never give the fish a chance to grow to the desired size. We as fisherman are responsible for the size and amount of fish the next generation would be able to catch. Sustainable fishing and proper catch and release techniques will ensure trophy fish in the near future. Also a picture trophy is easier to mount and get by the husband/wife than an actual stuffed fish, so please rather take a picture than a fish to your wall of honor.

Article by Wynand Britz – Part time fishing guide, photographer and conservationist. For more follow us on @FlyFishingSA


Feb 03, 2014 | Category: News | Comments: none

 

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