Proper Catch & Release Methods

One of the joys of being a trout fisherman is watching a beautiful wild trout safely returned to its native waters. By practicing “catch and release” fishing, we all insure that this valuable, natural resource will live to fight another day for the next sportsman.

My three main goals for returning all my fish are as follows: By releasing this fish unharmed, it will hopefully reproduce, having many offspring, thus improving my future fishing. Secondly, the next time you or I catch him, it will have grown larger. Letʼs face it. Itʼs a whole lot more fun catching a 15” trout than an 8” one. Thirdly, pure economics. If Michigan is going to retain its status as a great place for out of state visitors to continue to visit, we need to have viable populations of trout in our rivers and streams. With the loss of so many of our manufacturing jobs over the past years, perhaps tourism can help us all out of this economic downspin.

Now to the “reel” subject at hand. The safe return of your catch starts before you even make your first cast in the water. Take a good pair of needle nose pliers and crimp down all the barbs on all of your flies or lures. This will make releasing your fish much easier and faster so you can get back to fishing.

Some folks worry that by debarbing their hook they will lose more of their fish, but experience has shown me that as long as you keep a tight line, this will not be an issue. The additional benefit to debarbing your hooks is that it is a lot easier to dig your fly out of the back of your fishing partnerʼs neck or shirt. This is of particular importance when your partner is also your ride home!

After setting the hook, release your partner...I mean the fish carefully. Do not overplay the fish to exhaustion as lactic acid will build up in his body, which can become life threatening for several hours after being set free. The safest way to release a trout is to leave him completely in the water and release him with your hands or forceps. If you must hold them, be sure to wet both of your hands first before holding him. Be very careful to never touch a troutʼs gills as they are its lungs and if they start to bleed, its chances for survival are greatly diminished.

To keep a trout from thrashing around, turn him upside down. This will temporarily disorient him and calm him down. Be sure to support his belly and tail and do not squeeze him tightly or drop him in the boat. A quick photo, then before releasing him, face him upstream so the current can pass through his gills. If the waters slow, you can rock him back and forth until you feel him “power up” and dash off. If the fish is reviving slowly, you can actually open his mouth and this will help the water to flow over his gills better. Do not rush the process. If he is large, he will require more time, especially if the water temperature is above 68 degrees. Note: 70 degrees is the temperature limit for safe trout fishing. In July and August go after small mouth bass unless the river stays cool. As my father always said, “If you want to see a bunch of dead trout, the supermarket is where you should go.”

The nicest thing about catch and release fishing is that you donʼt have to stop fishing once you would have reached your limit. Fishing for sport is much more fun than fishing for food. Plus donʼt overlook the fact that you can add several inches to the size of all you catch as you tell your fish tales.