Tips for releasing trout successfully

Here are 11 tips for releasing trout successfully.

According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, an increasing number of anglers are choosing to release all or part of their trout catch – even when regulations allow them to keep fish. A 2008 survey of Pennsylvania trout anglers found that 88 percent indicated they practiced catch-and-release at least half of the time. Based on my streamside observations, I am relatively certain that percentage has increased during the past eight years.

Although more anglers are releasing more of their trout, I still see a need for additional education in this department. If your goal is to bring home dinner, the regulations on most of the state's streams allow you to creel up to five trout, measuring seven inches or longer. If harvest is your plan, then fishing techniques and handling are not critical.  

However, if you would like to successfully return your catch to the stream or lake, I would like to offer a few tips for carefully releasing trout.

1. Most important – if fishing bait, keep a tight line and set the hook as soon as you detect a strike. This reduces the chance of deeply hooking a trout. Deeply hooked trout are at least five times more likely to die after release than those hooked in the jaw.

2. To unhook a trout, use a net or keep the fish in the water. Never pull the trout out of the water by holding the line – this puts maximum stress on your line and the trout, and it imbeds the hook more deeply. 

3. If a trout is deeply hooked, snip the line close to the trout's mouth. Do not try to remove the hook as this could cause injury to the gills or internal organs.

4. Play trout the minimum amount of time reasonably possible. The longer it takes to land a trout, the greater the stress that will result. My brother and I have timed each other – from hook-set to release, on a small stream, it usually takes us less than 20 seconds to hook, play, land, unhook and release a typical 10-inch trout. How long does it take you?

5. Handle trout with care and as little as possible. Do not squeeze them.

6. Keep your fingers away from a trout's gills – they are fragile. Putting your fingers in their gills would be like someone sticking their fingers in your lungs. 

7. Trout caught in cool water have a better chance of survival than those caught in warm water. Never fish for trout when water temperatures climb above 68 degrees. The higher the water temperature, the higher the probability that a released trout will die.

8. Wet hands vs. dry hands – I am not aware of any research regarding this. However, if you handle a trout with dry hands, it removes the protective slime layer from the fish. Use a wet hand if at all possible. 

9. If fishing a lure with two treble hooks, consider removing the forward treble hook. This will reduce eye injuries to the trout.  It will also lower handling time, which in turn decreases mortality.

10. Support the jaw when removing a barbed hook from a trout's mouth. There is no need to damage the trout while unhooking it. Apply pressure opposite the barb and back the hook out. A needle-nosed pliers or forceps helps.

11. If you can, take photos of the trout partially in the water. If you are going to hold a trout out water for a photo, make sure that the camera is ready before you lift the trout out. For multiple photos, return the trout to the water between shots. Research shows that keeping a trout out of water for even one minute increases mortality. 

Every trout that is successfully released is just the same as the Fish & Boat Commission stocking another trout. It makes the fishing better for everyone.


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