Effective catch and release begins with tackle choices you make before you get on the water. Everything from the hook, to the rod and even the net can make the difference in how well a fish survives after you’ve released it.
Here are a few tips on sustainable recreational fishing gear that will help ensure the health and vitality of the fish you catch and release.
Hooked on survival
Circle hooks have become the standard for fishermen wishing to increase their catch rates while reducing harm to the fish. Standard J hooks pose a greater threat to recreational fish survival rates. The hook’s shape makes it easier for a fish to swallow bait so the hook gets lodged in the esophagus or the stomach.
Circle hooks substantially increase the chance that a fish will get hooked in the corner of the jaw, which increases the chances you will land the fish while minimizing damage to the fish. Use non-offset circle hooks with the point in line with the shaft, not set off to the side. Like J hooks, offset circle hooks can become lodged in vital organs.
Pinch the barbs, particularly on larger hooks. Pinching the barbs makes it faster and easier to release a fish, which also conserves the fish’s strength so it can swim away and regroup.
Use non-stainless steel hooks. This is particularly true for larger fish that have a good chance of breaking your line. Stainless steel takes a long time to corrode and could jeopardize a fish’s long-term health. A hook stuck in a fish’s mouth could make it harder for the fish to feed. Non-stainless hooks will dissolve in a couple of days.
Match the tackle to the target
Select a rod and reel appropriate for the type and size of fish you’re targeting. You want to be able to feel the fight, but not extend the fight to the point where the fish won’t survive when released. That is, don’t chase 20-pound striped bass with a four-weight fly rod. The battle might feel more intense on the rod, but if you do land the fish, it will likely have exhausted itself beyond recovery.
If you’re using a net, make sure it doesn’t have any knots in it. The knots can cut into a fish’s skin through the scales. Rubberized nets prevent chafing. Also make sure the net is in good shape and doesn’t have any weak spots or holes that fish can swim through. Not only is it a mess to try and land a fish that has broken through a net, it stresses the fish more than necessary.
Get the lead out
Use lead-free jig heads and sinkers. Lead is poisonous to both humans and wildlife and has been banned for use in fishing in many states as well as internationally.