DNR: How to boost chances fish survive after catch-and-release

With Minnesota’s open-water fishing season kicking off Saturday, May 13, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reminding anglers of actions they can take to boost the chances a fish survives after being released.

“Catch-and-release fishing is an important topic, especially in recent years with expanded catch-and-release seasons in Minnesota for lake sturgeon, trout and bass,” said Al Stevens, fisheries survey and systems consultant. “What’s more, anglers often choose to release large fish, and are required to release fish that aren’t of a legal size to keep.”

(Minnesota DNR photo)

Fish can be injured by hooks, stress and being pulled from deep water. Being hooked in the mouth does little damage to the fish, and setting the hook quickly helps avoid hooking a fish in the stomach or gills.

Jigs, circle hooks and active baits like crankbaits are more likely to hook a fish in the mouth. Barbless hooks or pinched barbs can help, but where the hook ends up is more important than the presence or absence of a barb.

“Ever hear the term, ‘throw it back?’ That’s a hold-over from the past when people thought nothing of literally tossing fish back so they slapped onto the water,” Stevens said. “In contrast, these days we hear more about handling the fish firmly but gently, and quickly returning them to the water.”

Beginner anglers, especially, may wonder what to do if a fish is deeply hooked.

“If a hook is deep in the fish, simply cut the line and leave the hook in the fish,” Stevens said. “A long-nosed type pliers is handy to remove hooks, but remember most people aren’t fish surgeons. It does them no good to use lots of force to twist out a deep hook.”

In the summer or when anglers are fishing deep water, the DNR encourages restraint when the fish are really biting. Fish pulled up from deep water can experience stress and injury, so anglers who plan on catch-and-release are reminded to avoid deep water. Under conditions when mortality after release is high because of physical factors like warm water or deep fish, anglers who catch and release a large number of fish could inadvertently cause more fish to die after release than their daily bag limit.

Other tips:

  • Wet hands before touching a fish to prevent removal of their protective slime coating. Rubberized nets help, too.
  • Unhook and release the fish while it is still in the water, if possible, and support its weight with both hands or with a net when removed from the water. Never lift them vertically.
  • Hold a fish firmly but gently. Don’t drop it. And don’t hold a fish by the eyes.
  • If planning to release a fish, do not place it on a stringer or in a live well.
  • Revive a fish by cradling it under the belly and gently moving it back and forth in the water until it swims away.
  • Harvest a fish that can be legally kept if it is bleeding or can’t right itself.

For more information on fishing and fishing regulations, visit mndnr.gov/fishmn.

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