As your fish gets closer to the boat, drop your entire rod and reel to your waist. If the fish goes under the boat, get your rod tip in the water and follow it. If you can see the fish, you'll know when it's tired. It'll roll over on his side. And if you can't see the fish, you'll be able to feel it.
Carefully avoiding hooks, many bass anglers use the thumb and index finger to grip a bass by its lower jaw. This holds the jaw wide open and temporarily paralyzes the fish. You can also land pan fish by pulling the fish towards you with the rod. Then grab the fish by the mouth or around the belly to remove the hook.
Don't gaff a fish unless you're planning to take it home. In most cases, you should try to land your catch with a net. If you gaff a red snapper or a grouper that's too small to take home, you'll be releasing a fish with a gaping hole in its side that's not likely to survive.
Today's nets are made to withstand a lot of weight when handled properly.
Always try to land a bigger fish with a net. Place the net in the water and lead the fish into the net head first. Don't stab the net at the fish. If you don't get it the first time, re-aim and try again. Keep the fish in the water if you plan on releasing it. If you plan on eating the fish, get it out of the water as quickly as possible and take the hook out away from the water.
To handle a fish with sharp teeth like a walleye or northern pike, carefully hold it around the body. Other fish like chinook or Atlantic salmon have a strong tail and you can grasp them in front of the tail fin.
Never hold a fish by the eyes or gills if you plan to free it.
Beaching a fish involves leading it into increasingly shallower water and gradually sliding the fish on its side onto dry land. In salt water, time your retrieval with an incoming wave. As the wave recedes, quickly grab your beached fish and pull it ashore.
If you're practicing catch and release, try to remove the hook without exciting or harming the fish. The eyelet (small hole) of the hook is the best place to grab the hook. Back the hook out the same way it went in.
There are special tools designed for taking out hooks. But needle-nosed pliers work pretty well. If you need to, use a hook remover or pliers to flatten the barb. Depending on how the fish is hooked, you might be able to cut away a small amount of flesh to get the hook out.
Professionals sometimes flatten the barbs on their hooks before they start fishing to cause less harm to the fish they catch. In some areas, you can only fish with barbless hooks.
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