Catch & Release
Catch & Release
Catch & Release
--Written by Dhruv Dhindsa.
Photo Credit: Dhruv Dhindsa, Owen Bosen, Ali H. Hussaini, Santosh Kolwankar, John Cimbaro and Angling Times
With the growing pressure on our waters and to ensure that this wonderful sport, which is ‘in-sync’ with mother nature survives, it essential that more people turn from ‘Fishermen’ into ‘Anglers’ and adopt a positive attitude towards catch and release.
There are sceptics about C & R and the number of fish that actually survive being released back. Over the last few years, lots of research has been done on this by anglers and academics alike. The conclusion is very simple to fathom; yes there are fish that don’t survive the stress of being handled and despite successfully swimming away die a short time later. However do keep in mind that a small chance is better than no chance. Academic researchers say that of the improperly handled fish approximately only 20% survive; but if proper C & R technique is followed and a few guidelines adhered to, this number jumps to over 70%. So you decide which figure is better.
It has been my observation that despite the prevalence of C&R, very few anglers know how to go about it in a manner which puts your catch in the 70% league. The key aspect of releasing a fish back successfully is minimal handling of the fish, and while it is being handled for the Kodak moment or for the removal of the hook, care should be taken to do minimum damage to the fish. Damage to the fish does not mean an open wound because of the hook set. Maximum damage happens due to bad handling.
The following recommendations are generalised, please feel free to adapt them to your waters and species. Let start with the basics:
- Use barbless hooks or crimp down the barbs. There is a big misconception around that you lose more fish with barbless hooks. I can safely guarantee that if pressure is maintained and proper technique is followed (the line remains taut), you will not lose the fish. You might in the beginning if you are a novice, but barbless hooks are a sure shot way of involuntarily improving your fish fighting skills. Add to that a lost fish is better than a damaged fish for he lives to fight another day.
- No Bait (for predators). Lures are designed to mimic bait fish, and most do an excellent job. Predatory fish work on a smash and grab principal. With a lure, the take is quick and clean, you will ‘feel’ the bite as it happens and more often than not the hooks will be set where they are supposed to- in the lips. With baited lines, by the time the angler reacts and sets the hook, the predator fish has usually swallowed the bait and the hook set happens deep in the throat or the gut. It is impossible to remove such a hook up without doing some surgery. In such a case, it is best to cut your line as close to the fish’s mouth as possible and set it free. Again, academic studies have shown that a fish with a gut hook-up if left alone has a higher chance of survival than one where the angler attempts surgery.
Play the fish quickly. The quicker you land the fish and release it, the less stressed out it is. Stress as we all know is a killer. Don’t dilly-dally when you have a fish on the line. It’s best to be organised with your landing net/mat, pliers, camera etc than to fumble around after you hook the fish.
A fighting fish produces lactic acid in its body which leads to acidosis. Depending on species, the average fish can take anywhere from 2 to 24 hrs to recover from this. Acidosis will damage the organs of the fish and kill it slowly. Therefore the quick landing.
- A fighting fish produces lactic acid in its body which leads to acidosis. Depending on species, the average fish can take anywhere from 2 to 24 hrs to recover from this. Acidosis will damage the organs of the fish and kill it slowly. Therefore the quick landing.
- Keep it in water. Ideally. Keeping the fish in the water is the best thing you can do. Unhook in the water if possible. Your Kodak moment with modern day cameras should not take more than 15 seconds.
As an analogy think of it this way: You have just done a 100 mtr sprint and the moment you cross the finish line, someone holds your head underwater. That is what the fish is going through when you lift it out of the water. Fish can’t breathe in air. Furthermore, the gill lining starts to collapse the moment the gills come out of the water. Damaged gills in fish are akin to lung wounds in humans.
- Landing your catch. Use a landing net of adequate size when in a boat. If fishing off the banks, use a landing mat. An inexpensive easy to use and clean landing mat readily available in India is a plastic tarp or a car rubber mat. Never drag or place a fish on the ground or on the boat deck. You will land up doing damage. Also ensure that your landing mat/net is wet. Dry mats and nets can be abrasive.
Never lift a fish using your rod or holding the line/leader. You will damage your gear. A good angler respects his gear as much as he respects his catch.
- Unhooking. Your tackle bag should always have long nose pliers. Use the pliers to reverse the hook along the path it has followed thought the flesh. Barbless hooks will come out easily. Barbed hooks need a little more care. Put a little pressure on the shank and bend. A little flesh will get pulled out with barbed hooks, but it’s still better than gouging out a trench.
If your catch is throat or gut hooked, cut the line as close to the mouth as possible and release it as quickly as you can.
- Handling. Use your hands to hold the fish. Wet your hands adequately or you will rub off the all-important protective slime coat. Lip grips look good on TV, but do remember that unlike snakes, fish don’t have a disarticulating jaw. If you damage its mandible, then the fish is doomed. Don’t hold it vertical. Horizontal is best with both hands supporting the body weight. It’s simple physics at work here. In water, the buoyancy supports the weight of the fish, and
- as it comes out of the water, the weight nearly doubles.
Hold your fish firmly yet gently. Do not squeeze. Holding the pectoral and anal fins will ensure the fish does not slide out of your hands. Do not try to make the fish less slimy. The slime is the fish version of a hand sanitizer or moisturiser.
Never hold a fish by its gills or the operculum (gill cover). Damaged gills are a sure shot way of killing the fish.
- Depressurisation. If you are fishing in deep waters (40 feet +), and you hook a fish at depth, chances are as you bring the fish up to the surface, it will bloat up due to the change in pressure affecting the swim bladder.
A bloated swim bladder squeezes the fish from the inside out and often, you will see the fish regurgitate, have its stomach sticking out of its mouth or its guts out of its anus. Do not attempt to repackage. The idea is to release the pressure and everything falls back into place. Carry a hypodermic syringe without the plunger and carefully puncture the swim bladder. This releases the trapped air inside. The swim bladder is easy to locate. In most fish it will be at the edge of the pectoral fin and under the lateral line.
A pressurised fish will not be able to dive down and will die a horrible death. Better to take your chances with depressurisation than to just throw it back.
- Resuscitation. This is the second most important part of C&R with the first being proper handling. Don’t just dump the fish back in the water. You have to revive it and this is simple. If there is a current in the water, hold the fish gently with its mouth upstream. Water will flow over the gills automatically. If you are fishing still waters, hold the fsh at the peduncle and swim it back and forth. As soon as you feel the fish begin to struggle, gently let go.
If one is to follow these basic steps, fish mortality is reduced and it ensures that the fish lives to fight another day. I have had the pleasure of catch the same Mahseer in it the same pool weekend after weekend, and it’s a pleasure to see the battle scars heal know that he grows bigger in time.
Practice C&R gentlemen. In the long run it’s worth it.