How To Catch And Release A Fish | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
A person releasing a largemouth bass from his kayak. Photo by Dustin Doskocil


When B.A.S.S. held its first catch-and-release tournament in 1972, fishing culture changed forever. Today due to regulations and tournament rules, many anglers let their fish live to see another day. But what’s the point if the fish dies? Follow the proper release protocol to ensure your catch survives the release.


Many studies show the longer you fight a fish, the lower it’s chance of survival. To cut fight time, use line matched to the weight of the fish you plan to catch. Then set the drag to one-third the breaking strength of the line. Change monofilaments each season and braid every couple years or any time it is compromised. Most fish are hearty critters and every angler has caught a fish with line trailing from its butt, but broken line can keep a fish from feeding or escaping predators.


There is tons of evidence that hook-choice affects release survival. Barbless hooks improve survival if the fish is deeply hooked. It’s a good idea to crush the barbs on treble hooks to prevent excessive injury to the fish or the angler. Circle hooks have proven to increase survival, especially when fishing with bait. A 2005 study of white marlin showed 100-percent survival with circle hooks compared to 65 percent caught on J-hooks. Remember, circle hooks work best when bridled to the bait. Anglers argue whether it's better to let the fish run with a circle hook or apply steady pressure as soon as the fish hits. The answer depends on the species, but it's best to keep the reel in gear and let the line come tight.


Deep hooking fish is inevitable. To prevent a fish from swallowing the bait, pay attention. Keep the line tight, hold the rod, watch the bobber, finger the line and pay attention for the slightest bite. If a fish is hooked in the gills or guts, it’s best to cut the line close to the hook.


Scientists have determined the best way to improve post release survival is to keep the fish wet. In fact, some states have laws that prevent anglers from removing a fish from the water. First of all, cold water fish will suffer more damage in warm water with depleted oxygen. Kayak anglers are in a better position than most to remove the hook and release the fish without fully removing it from the water. Use a fish-gripper to secure the fish so it doesn’t injure itself. If you use a net, choose one with rubber-coated mesh that protects the fish’s slime coat. Wet your hands and support the fish’s belly. Don’t lift the fish vertically and never grab the fish by the eyes or gills. To release the fish, place it in the water until it kicks away under its own power. After all, the only thing more satisfying than eating a fish sandwich is watching a fish swim away to be caught another day.


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