I’m gonna throw it back to a real basic topic here, but it’s absolutely necessary… handling fish.
Fortunately, in this day and age, most anglers not only practice catch and release, but go to great lengths to handle fish responsibly and safely. By doing so, they are doing their part in creating healthy, sustainable fisheries for years to come. But, it never hurts to have a reminder. Let’s hit some of the more important points:
1. #KEEPEMWET! This one matters in a big way. Fortunately the popularity of the hashtag, as well as a lot of attention from the angling community, has encouraged anglers to keep fish in the water as long as possible, minimizing their time being held up for photos. The logic here is obvious: fish can’t breathe out of the water, so don’t take them out for very long. Makes sense, right?
2. Be Supportive Fish are not meant to be held out of the water. Their spinal structure and organs are built to be supported by the water around them. When you remove them from that water, gravity puts unnecessary strain on their fragile bodies. For that reason, it’s critical that you support the fish all the way down its body, the way it’s done in this fine release photo by @marcus_mattioli. The fish is held horizontally, with gentle support given to the midsection and tail. This keeps the tail from sagging, which is bad for the spine, and prevents strain on the fish’s organs that would occur if it were held vertically.
3. Wet your hands You may have heard, but fish are slimy. But they’re slimy for a reason. That slime protects them from injury and infection, and is critical to fish survival. When you touch a fish with dry hands (or any dry object), that slime will be removed, making survival much more difficult. By simply dipping your hands in the water before you touch the fish, you’ll remove less slime with your hands, increasing odds of survival.
Handling instructions do vary a bit from species to species (trout, for example, are held differently than bass), but these are simple pillars you can follow across all fish. Handle them with care, and you’ll be doing your part in creating a special fishery for yourself and others for years to come.