How to Hold a Fish That You Plan to Release

By Debbie Hanson

Jul 26, 2021

List of helpful guidelines on how to hold a fish, how to handle fish in ways that significantly increase catch and release survival rates, minimize stress

When practicing catch and release fishing, it’s important to learn how to hold a fish to minimize stress or injury. Learning how to properly hold a fish can significantly increase catch and release survival rates. Follow these fish handling guidelines to help preserve our fish populations for future generations of anglers.

Keep Fish Wet

Keep the fish in the water while removing hooks or lures whenever possible. Removing a fish from the water can cause stress, suffocation (if the fish is held out of water for too long) and contribute to internal injuries when not handled carefully.

Use Wet Hands

If you do have to handle a fish while practicing catch and release, use wet hands. Learning how to handle a fish with wet hands will help reduce any loss or damage to the fish’s protective slime coat. Never use a towel or any type of cloth to hold or handle a fish because fabrics will remove the slime coat from the fish and leave the fish susceptible to infections.

Provide Proper Support

If you need to remove the fish from the water to remove a hook or lure, use a rubberized landing net (rubberized nets help prevent damage to the fish’s slime coat) or cradle the fish gently with one hand beneath the belly near the surface of the water. Hold the fish horizontally versus vertically whenever possible, using one hand to support the belly of the fish.

Treat the Fish Gently

When learning how to handle a fish, be gentle and avoid squeezing the fish tightly. Squeezing the fish can damage the internal organs and muscle tissue. It’s also important to remember that you should never hold a fish by the gills.

Certain species of fish are more delicate than others. This means you should make every effort to learn about the anatomy and physiology of the species you are targeting. For example, when learning how to hold a bass you can use a thumb and finger grip on the lower lip while supporting the fish’s belly. However, when learning how to hold a trout you wouldn’t want to grab the fish by the mouth.

Quickly Remove Hooks or Lures

Keep the fish in the water or hold it upside down to calm the fish while removing the hook. If you must remove the fish from the water, be mindful of not keeping the fish out of the water any longer than you can hold your own breath.

Now that you know more about how to hold a fish that you plan to release, you can learn more about the different types of catch and release hooks that contribute to higher survival rates.

Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.