This article first appeared in Fly Fish America Magazine in January issue 1999.

With catch and release fly fishing practiced on most waters most of the time, there are ways to ensure the healthy release of fish. Actually the fly fisher's mishandling of the fish kills the fish it in most cases. So be careful!

HANDLING FISH

Dr. John Grizzle, fish Pathologist at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, believes "...its far more important how a fish is handled after it is landed. How long it is out of the water, what the air temperature is, how many times its slammed against the side of the boat, how much the gills are injured when they pick it up incorrectly -- those sorts of issues are much more important as far as whether the fish is going to survive or not."

Doug Hannon, ESPN's famed "bass professor" relates "...when people are landing a fish, if they are calm and try to get the fish to hand gently...they will land the fish quicker causing less fear and stress for the fish." Hannon cautions us to use knotless catch and release nets and not lift the fish out of the water with the net. Instead, just let the fish swim in the net. Then vertically lip the fish and raise it out of the net, gently releasing the fish.

PHYSIOLOGICALLY, WHAT KILLS FISH?

According to Dr. Bob Reinert, professor at the University of Georgia, the stress that fish exhibit after being caught is caused when hormones known as catecholamines and corticosteroids are generated in the fish's body. They dramatically increase the fish's blood flow in the gills and muscles, imbalancing the fish's blood electrolytes and building up lactic acid in the fish's blood. The blood becomes too acidic, and osmotic shock can set in, RAPIDLY killing the fish. If osmotic shock doesn't kill the fish, days later when the fish's immune system has shut down from the stress, disease may kill it.

The biggest problem for the fish is loss of salts from its blood. By simply adding 1.3 ounces of regular table salt per gallon of water in your livewell, you will help replenish the fish's salts and aid in his long term survival. According to Dr. Reinert, there are commercially prepared water conditioners which contain "an anaesthetic, antibiotics, a dechlorinator, a water coloring agent, and a variety of dissolved salts." These solutions help to stabilize the fish's electrolytes, guard against infection, and calm the fish. Resting in a dark livewell by itself, undisturbed for a few minutes will greatly help the fish recover for release.

I particularly like the Boga grip that you see me holding this large bass with (right). Using the BOGA grip, I can grip the fish, remove my fly, even shoot a photo without touching the fish. With a quick release, the big bass is on her way. No contamination or disturbance of her slime coating has occurred. She is held vertically so no jaw cartilage is damaged. It is a good, fast release. Boga grips are available at most better fly shops. "Handling" a fish this way is MUCH better than netting this fish.

IF NO LIVEWELL IS AVAILABLE

(1) Play the fish to hand as rapidly as possible.
(2) Wet hands before touching the fish, and support it carefully.
(3) Remove the hook without touching the fish if possible.
(3) Shoot any photos, weigh the fish, and get it back in the water in under a minute.
(4) Position fish to force water through gills, and in streams point fish into current. When the fish tries to swim off, it is probably ready.
(5) Keep handling to an absolute minimum, and be gentle.
(6) Lip a fish vertically -- don't crank its jaw over until its tongue sticks out. You could injure the cartilage in its jaw and make it difficult for the fish's mouth to function properly hurting the fish's odds of survival.

IF A LIVEWELL IS AVAILABLE

(1) Play the fish gently to land it as quickly as possible.
(2) Lip the fish and get it into the livewell as soon as you can.
(3) Give the fish fifteen to twenty minutes in a dark livewell before disturbing it.
(4) Weigh, measure and photograph the fish very quickly, then put the fish back in the livewell for at least 20 minutes of undisturbed recovery time.
(5) Use salt or commercially available chemicals to rebalance the fish's electrolytes and protect him from disease.


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