Catch and Release: On Your Terms

By Andy Whitcomb

Nov 04, 2015

Many anglers like to harvest fish for dinner every now and then.

Many anglers like to harvest fish for dinner every now and then. Regulations for selective harvest may even be beneficial for the management of a fishery, by reducing the number of stunted fish, for example. But, the practice of “catch and release” is tremendously important. As author Lee Wulff wrote, “… fish are too valuable to be caught only once.”

Unintended Catch and Release

However, the first part of this sustainable fishing method is the Catch. We must be able to bring the fish to our hands before we can initiate Part II: the Release. Despite our best attempts to keep a tight line, fish often get away. This even occurs to professional bass tournament anglers; who have developed several descriptive terms and phrases for this.

Here are a few of the printable terms for a when a fish escapes:

“Long distance release.”



“Swing and a miss.”

“The fish ‘threw it.’”

For anglers that were going to release the fish anyway, an early release may not seem a big deal. But it is. We want to hold that fish. Admire it for a brief moment. Maybe snap a photo. Then, and only then, choose to release the fish. Thus, we try to minimize events where the choice is taken away from us.

3 Reasons Fish May Come Off the Fish Hook Early

  1. Dull or damaged fish hooks. For example if you fish rocky areas, those hook points take a beating. Keep checking them and consider replacing fish hooks or keeping a hook sharpener handy for “down time.”

  2. Mistimed hook set. When the fishing lure is jerked the instant the fish hits, hookset may be too early such as with topwater frogs. Conversely, when fly fishing, trout or sunfish frequently inhale fishing lures but spit them out before the hook can be set.

  3. Slack line. This can occur when not reeling fast enough to match lowering the rod tip or if the fish swims directly to you. It can also happen in the blink of an eye with a jump or headshake.

Catch and Release is just one of the ways we can protect our water resources. Although we were going to let that fish go anyway, a “long distance release” just isn’t as satisfying. You can’t get “Bass Thumb” from shaking a clenched fist at the splash where that big one used to be.

What do you call it when a fish comes off early?

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.