Fish handling / catch and release

I thought I would fire up a thread on fish handling.

To disclose, I am not perfect when it comes to appropriate handling…or what is best for the fish, and believe this is a personal choice thing and my own behavior depend on my mood. This thread is more about sharing concepts on the issue and what my personal stand on it is.

Catch and release fishing is interesting. In Switzerland and Germany, as an example, outlaws catch and release. Noting it is inhumane…and a way of torturing an animal for no logical purpose. From a practical standpoint, it is true. Its the equivalent of working a job but not getting paid a salary.

I get a lot out of fishing that is not meat. My connection with nature and I fulfill my need to hunt.

I have interest in on protecting the fish I target but see this as a personal decision and would not try to impose it on others. After all, there is no law in how to handle fish… just suggestions. I would not try to impose anything on another angler, but do feel it is fair to discuss what is best for the fish but really if we were 100% concerned we would not target them. All this becomes an exercise on splitting hairs.

Its been a hot topic in the striped bass fishery. Catch and release mortality. Studies suggest that 9% of release fish die. It could be immediate or take a few days or even longer. So for every 100 fish you land…9 have crosses in their eyes. In warm water/low oxygen the number goes up. For trout that number might be higher…as I feel they are less hearty than striped bass.


  1. barbless hooks
  2. tackle appropriate for the size of fish - stout enough for quick land.
  3. limit the fighting time - always find soft water to land them quicker
  4. try fishing in cold oxygenated water
  5. keep them wet
  6. leave them in the water
  7. skip the photos and biometrics(length and weight)
  8. do not touch the fish

1-4 I feel are the easiest rules to employ. If I can get a fish in quick, I feel I have more sand in the timer to take pics or admire my catch.

For me 5-8 I am sloppy on and depends on my mood.

My biggest motivator is the fish’s beauty and I really am contrary on following 4-6. Because the colorless nature of stocked fish, I never take pics of stockers anymore. But the wild fish…the ones I love the most…I stress the most, trying to get pics of. Lately, I try to keep them netted and in the water, but that makes it challenging to get photos of them. I recently bought a tank for photo ops… but I have not started carrying it. Perhaps this thread will motivate me to the next step.

#8 is by far the most difficult and probably the most harmful.
Contact with the fish(by hand or net) or leaving it on the ground strips the fish of their mucous.
If you do handle fish…be gentle, try not crushing them or squeezing them. The idea is to reduce internal organ damage. If possible…release the fish in the water without the use of a net or picking them up. This is the best thing for them, but unless I am having an extraordinary day…I usually do touch them or inspect them. Sometimes it is a quick lift and view…but contact just the same.

I am not perfect. Sometimes I have a fish in hand without wetting my hands or having them wet enough. Accidents…but not and excuse.
Fish in hand is sometimes this is the best way to document them…and for me…that is my trophy.

Catch and release is important, but it is not elitist nor is it perfect. There are moralities. The guy who drops in a river once a week to harvest a couple of fish, may have a smaller impact than the angler catching hundreds of fish a week…as with C&R mortality.

The above are considerations…just that. A friend in the striped bass fishery says…a released fish with a low survival percentage is still better than a fish on the stringer. Well, that depends on a lot of factors…but from a general wildlife perspective…yes.

My spin on it…a released fish with a low survival percentage is still better than a freezer burned fish. As I do like eating fish. My area is mostly stocked fish in questionable water sources…so I skip eating them, but if they were clean wild fish, I would like to harvest some of them. I love trout!!!


I need to be better too. I wish there was more credible data with small trout. I find lots of data for species I don’t fish for. I’m not sure I can extrapolate the data for striped bass to 6-12 inch trout. Still, I need to be better in my trout handling.


I personally think “keep 'em wet” should be close to non-negotiable for trout. Obviously, there are going to be situations where it doesn’t happen (e.g., forget to wet your hand, fishing high on a bank) but I think those should be exceptions. It’s not hard to keep a fish wet to take the hook out in 90% of the cases.

I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to be better.

When I no longer eat my catch, I will quit.

We need lots more recipes!

That being said?

I agree with Dr. Tom

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I agree with you. I also need to be better myself. I struggle with the same numbers on your list.

One of your key points that I think a lot of C&R anglers overlook or feel better about themselves than the catch and kill anglers relates to how many each type of angler catches…The catch and kill angler that fishes for 2 fish a week and keeps the two he catches may do much less harm than the angler that fishes C&R multiple times a week with catch rates above 30 fish each of those days. So even perfect C&R practices should have catch limits…right? That is an excellent point.

The stats on mortality rates have to be so difficult to collect or interpret. So many factors in a natural stream… Regardless though I am sure C&R has a toll in a significant way and so when that blockbuster day hits…it is hard to stop, but if you can remember, it might be best to slow it down…

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There are some published studies. I’m not a scientist so I can’t determine their credibility.

(Fish size section that specifically mentions non-anadromous trout summarizes Appendix A)

I’m in the “want to get better” group too. I do use a Measure Net (bag on all my nets-tamos) to net over 90% of the fish I catch and keep them in the water to unhook, photograph and try to release them from the net without handling at all if I can. To photograph them I keep an Olympus TG5 in a quick release holster on the strap of my sling pack that I can retrieve with one hand. I think my biggest areas of improvement would be reducing the time they are out of the water:

  1. When I capture them in the net while moving from a standing position to where I can be in a kneeling position.
  2. When unhooking the fish.
  3. When orienting the fish in the net for a photo, focus, and a quick lift out for the shot

    I want to get where I can get good shots with the fish freely swimming in the net without lifting the net from the water.
    I almost always allow the fish to swim out of the net.

Thanks for posting Brian. I was going to post the top link. I read through that one and it is very interesting. Fly fishing seems to have the lowest percentage…and bait is super high.

Simply google “catch and release trout mortality” and everyone can get their fill of data.

In general I feel these percentages are neither thorough nor 100% scientifically accurate…as there are so many factors that feed into injuring a fish that its impossible to factor them all in.

No matter the fishery, the dawn of social media, camera phones, and waterproof digital cameras feeds into mortality in a way that was not there a decade and a half ago. Our modern overwhelming need to document everything. There is this new human behavior that feeds into a large aspect of potential upticks in mortality that I feel its worth discussing. I am not exempt.

I suspect that the study on the henryfork link is not factoring photography. Probably just hooking and releasing, so consider those numbers as a base line…where it may only get worse the longer you keep the fish out of the water. Some guys suggest holding your breath from time to land to release, to simulate what the fish might be experiencing.

Check out this article…especially #3.

Other considerations. I have released trout that are stunned. Not sure of the tipping point or even if I bothered with a photo in those instances. I think in some cases I did not. The fish returns to water, swims a couple feet and hangs out for a while. Sometimes, I have even been able to reach out and touch the fish without it moving away. Alive, yes…but things to note. If it doesnt die from trauma, it sure is a sitting duck for a predator. Its end path makes little difference but the cause is the same.

I am not saying any of this for us to feel bad about what we do. I find enjoyment catch and release and in fish photos. Mine and others. With some simple modifications, we can make it easier on the fish. Tanks work for photos and/or keeping the critters wet and in the river the second part. Chalk it up to the cost of entertainment in what we do. I have no issues owning it. I like to be a realist about my footprint in this world, that includes admitting I do some harm. I am an animal after all.

Interesting stuff.

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Thanks for posting this, while I do eat fish I release 95%


Maybe another note that tends to get ignored is breeding fish, I find it unethical to target large breeders heading upstream, they take forever to revive properly and if the die it could mean the lives of hundreds of fish not just the one at hand.

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next step is leaned over with the fish in the water.

Thanks for the article. I am pleased to say that I couldn’t/wouldn’t want to carry a tank that is big enough for most of the (freshwater, and certainly the saltwater) fish I land. The downside to my method is I have dozens and dozens of photos of fish in the net, but almost no photos (none, nada, zeeeero) that have me as a subject. Each piscatorial treasure is amazingly beautiful to me but the result is, how many pics of fish in the net is does anyone else want to see?

I am fairly successful at fishing the Puget Sound salt beaches in Washington State for Sea Run Coastal Cutthroat, resident Coho, Blackmouth (juvenile King) Salmon, and Chum (aka Dog - big teeth) Salmon all winter into late spring. I do get concerned when there are seals about driving the baitfish along with my quarry into the beach, that the priceless treasure I seek may be an easy meal for a relentless and crafty predator after release, but generally in freshwater and the salt, I let the fish revive in, then swim out of the net when they are ready, so I hope that helps. I am buoyed by the fact that recent electronic tagging studies show the Sea Run Coastal Cutthroat are being caught multiple times.


One other thing, I do try to keep pretty accurate records about my fishing trips including catch data. Besides trying to land a fish as quickly as possible, the Measure Net helps a lot to not stress the fish out more than necessary to gather my data. When I net the fish, I photograph the fish with my TG5 in the net. I get the length measurement from the photo for the fishing log app in my phone (that captures the GPS location, time, and weather) by importing the photo from the Olympus phone app that has a wireless connection to my camera that can reduce my photographic fumbling impact on the fish to a minimum.

Dang man…those must be fun.

I released a 10 lb bluefish and turned around to walk up the beach and heard the water explode behind me. I turned to see a 500 lb seal with the blue in its mouth crossways like how a dog carries a bone. Then I witnessed the unbelievable. That seal came up to the beach close enough where it could touch bottom and it started flipping the fish, working its mouth to the fishes head and then ate the fish head first all in one swallow. No chewing…just down the hatch the whole 30 inch bluefish…hahahahaha.

As you know, those seals will follow an angler like a dog would. Following…hoping…to get some scraps.

Understood… the Tank I bought could only hold a small to medium sized trout and is not 100% practical and definitely not for large fish…hahahhahaha. I bought it but there is a reason why I have not employed it. It is for wild brookies and is a bit of a novelty and would require time to setup before the catch. Fun but not practical. When I have seen pics of fish in these tanks they are pretty nice looking.


Thanks, I have those articles in my C&R folder and have studied them. As I said, I need to do better.

Well said and I completely agree. I was having this conversation with a couple of guys at work a couple of weeks ago. The overall sentiment is that the people that keep what they catch have lesser impact. I think when that is coupled with realistic size limits and creel limits, it likely has a lower overall impact. Though I wish there was more emprical data to show one way or the other.

The other thing I wonder is how much of a negative impact the internet (in particular social media or forums like this) has had on fish mortality, because of people wanting “glory photos”.

I’m similar to what most of you have said. I can definitely be better.


The issue I see here is the guys who strictly catch and kills will have a stringer with 4 fish, catch one that’s better and will toss a half dead fish back in over and over, dead fish after dead fish floating down stream. Also a lot of catch and kill fishermen use treble hooks, the damage they cause is horrific.

I agree with Peder about social media and cell phone pictures, prior to getting into photographing the pretty fish caught they almost never where taken out of the water, in most cases.

Call me naive, but I’ve never heard of that or seen evidence of it.

If I saw that I would have words with the creep…and probably get a license plate and report it.

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It’s happens all the time, maybe because we are a half days drive from Los Angeles and people come up and think they can do what ever. The leave trash, broken bottles, shoot guns near houses, tear up wild lands with their big giant lifted trucks. My wife and I ran a campground for ten years and we saw it all.

One time I found about 15 beautiful big trout in the trash can. Completely waste, no regard to anything.

Granted this is more often the exception but these horrific atrocities stick to memory.

I have had words with some of these people and they always tend towards violence, something I have no interest in.

Good topic. I’m with you on all of these and I’m doing pretty good up to 7. I got myself a net this season purely to decrease the stress on fish I catch. I didn’t carry one before because I like to take the minimum with me and 99% of my catches are under 15 inches. The result is that I land fish faster, and leave them in the water without touching them. The hook removes itself half of the time. I end up handling the fish less than 5 seconds out of the water to shoot a photo and/or remove the hook and then let it go. So I’m pretty happy with the net on this front.

Touching the fish is actually one of the reasons I fish so I’m probably not going to let that go but I do my best to minimize the impact of my pleasure (wet hands, quick, no squeezing, release in slower water, etc.).