How to Release a Fish

Learning how to release a fish is important before going on any fishing trip. Fishermen often catch and release fish, because it is beneficial to the conservation of native species. When fishermen properly release a fish, the species is more likely to survive and reproduce for future fishing activities and a healthy ecosystem.

The process to release a fish is not always simple and often takes some practice. In order to properly release fish on your next fishing trip, it is important that you follow a few guidelines to reduce harm and stress to the fish. The steps to safely catch and release fish sometimes vary based on the water conditions, the tackle used or the handling of the fish. For more details, review the helpful sections below.

  • Find out how to fun and respect marine life.
  • Learn about the safest way to catch and release fish.
  • Get tips on proper gear for catch and release fishing!

What are the ideal water conditions to catch and release fish?

When you catch and release a fish, it is important to understand how the water conditions impact the stress levels of the fish. For a responsible catch and release, fish should experience the least amount of stress possible. Conditions are not ideal to catch and release fishes if the water temperature is high or if the flow of water is extremely low. In these cases, it is best to wait for more natural conditions before fishing.

What kind of fishing equipment is best for catch and release?

The best way to safely release fish is to use the right tools to catch it. The fishing gear used to catch and release different fish plays a significant role in the harm and stress levels of the fish. To increase the chances of fish survival after release, keep these tips in mind on your next fishing trip:

  • Use a strong fishing rod and line. These are best for reeling the fish in quickly to reduce fish exhaustion and stress, which can be harmful when releasing fish.
  • Avoid using bait with a scent or artificial bait that prompts fish to swallow fishing hooks, causing deeper injuries.
  • Use barbless hooks or circle hooks to catch and release fish, because they are easier to remove from the fish and increase the chances of survival.
  • Use artificial lures and flies, because they usually hook the fish on the lip, increasing removal speed and ease.
  • Use a rubber landing net or soft and knotless mesh to reduce harm to the eyes, scales, fins and protective mucous layer on the fish.

What is the proper way to handle a fish before release?

You will better understand how to release a fish if you understand how to handle your catch. Before you release a fish from a hook, keep the following points in mind:

  • Unhooking a fish in the water is ideal, but if you must remove it from the water, limit air exposure to 30 to 60 seconds. To properly release a fish, it is best to minimize the amount of time it spends out of water. Air exposure before you release fishes can lead to suffocation, stress or internal injury.
  • Use gloves or wet your hands before handling it.
  • Do not hold the fish by its gills or squeeze it tightly. This can cause injury to the muscle tissue or interior organs.
  • Handle the fish as little as possible and be relaxed and efficient.
  • Hold the fish horizontally to reduce internal damage or upside-down to calm the fish while you unhook it.
  • Hook removers can assist with the hook removal process and limit the harm caused to the fish. These include needle-nosed pliers and hemostats.
  • Do not try to dig out a hook that is in too deep, as it will injure the fish further. Cut the fishing line as closely as you can to the hook and release the fish.

How do you properly release a fish?

Before you release a species of fish, let it recover fully from any stress or weakness. If you plan to catch and release a fish, hold it upright in a horizontal position or ensure that the fish is secure in the landing net. Do not toss the fish back into the water. Instead, simply let fresh water run over the fish, which helps it regain oxygen and strength.

Make sure the gills of the fish consistently open and close, demonstrating proper ventilation, before release. When you let go of a fish, allow it to swim away when it is ready. When preparing to let go of fish, look for calm water, as fast or turbulent waters (especially from a boat midstream) can sweep away and potentially injure the weakened fish.

How do you properly release a deep-water fish?

When you catch and release fish from deep saltwater fishing areas, they can experience a condition called barotrauma, or bloating from the escape of dissolved gases in their blood. These fish are often unable to control their buoyancy and can die without proper assistance getting back to deeper waters. Thus, to properly release fish of this nature, anglers can use different descending tools or recompression devices, including:

  • Reversed barbless weights.
  • Barbless hooks.
  • Weighted upside-down milk crates.

For help on getting started as a fisherman, download our beginner’s guide to fishing here.