Catch and Release: Review and Update

The practice of “catch and release” has been greatly successful with the conservation and preservation of incredible fisheries all around the world. However, available information on the best methods can vary. In fact, Dr. Steven J. Cooke, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Biology at Carleton University, published a paper in the Journal of Environmental Management about how instruction provided by various agencies differs and may need to be revaluated and updated.

Many catch and release practices are agreed upon such:

Pinch down the barb. It is highly unlikely that this will lead to more lost fish. Less injury to the fish.

Consider artificials rather than bait. PA Fish and Boat Coldwater Unit leader Tom Greene mentioned in a recent article that “fish caught on flies and lures have lower mortality rates” than bait.

Keep it short. Overplayed, stressed fish are easier to handle but may not recover as quickly. Minimize air exposure for that quick photo.

Keep it wet. Leave in the water if possible and wet your hands before handling.

Handle with care. Stay away from the gills and use two hands to support large fish horizontally.

However the practice of reviving may need to be updated:

According to Dr. Cooke, of the agencies that described reviving techniques, 63% recommended moving the fish “back and forth” in the water. However, water must flow forward over the gills for oxygen transfer. Any movement backwards “does not optimize oxygen uptake.” Therefore the recommended practice in water without current is to pull the fish by lower jaw forward in a “figure 8.” For toothy fish, a gripper tool will help prevent finger punctures.

Dr. Hal Schramm with the Mississippi State Cooperative Research Unit concurs with this method of resuscitating fish. “Do not move the fish back and forth; rather move the fish so water flows into the mouth, over the gills, and out the gill covers. However, if the fish is able to swim away, just release it in a head-down position.”

Finally, always keep in mind the water temperature. Cool water buys a little more time than warm but any extreme temperatures mean you need to work quickly and efficiently. Be sure to check our site for additional conservation tips for releasing saltwater and deep fish.

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Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb

Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.