An important aspect of fishing is learning a good basic knowledge of the species you hope to catch, the legal and seasonal status and edibility factors. Many fish are released for a wide range of reasons including exceeding your bag limit, the fish does not meet size limits for that species or the season may be closed for the take of that species of fish.
The following are some basic guidelines to follow that will ensure you do your part not to waste the resource.
While fishing, try to maintain and monitor a tight line so that a fish does not completely swallow a hook causing internal damage. An even better method is to employ the use of circle hooks, which are highly effective, yet almost always hook the fish in the corner of the mouth. This has been studied and proven to reduce mortality in fish. A growing number of die-hard fishermen feel those are better than more traditional J-hooks.
Cut the leader close on a swallowed hook rather than trying to dig it out of the fish. Yanking on their guts is not responsible fishing, and the survival of the fish is not likely. Leaving the hook in, while not optimal, gives the best chance of survival. Embedded hooks are often encased by scar tissue, and the fish continues to thrive.
Fish also have a better chance of survival if kept in the water. If you do need to measure it or work with it, keep the “out of water time” to a minimum. Have tools and rulers at the ready and never grab the fish with a dry rag. The slime coat is a vital part of the fish’s defense to disease and removing it degrades its ability to survive. Wet your hands or gloves to prevent the slime from being wiped off. Rubber-coated nets are better than fin-splitting nylon ones. Flopping on a hot, dry deck or beach also tends to remove slime, so take precautions.
The use of dehooking tools can help speed the process of returning the fish to the water. Often fish from deeper waters need to be vented or manually taken back to depth in order to release or recompress the expanded gasses in their body. If this is not performed, then the fish is doomed to float away on the surface. There are a variety of venting tools available, and learning how to properly use them is crucial. Many anglers who deal with inflated fish keep a rod ready with a barbless hook and large weight, which acts as a diving sled to take the fish back to a depth where the gasses squeeze back into solution, and the fish is then released off the barbless hook.
If we all work to increase the survival rate of released fish, we will have more fish to catch.