Be kind to your fish when angling

If you plan to practice catch-and-release, appropriate handling will dramatically increase the survival rate of fish.

  • Jul. 23, 2015 4:00 p.m.

Southern British Columbia has experienced unprecedented heat this spring and early summer.

Most streams and rivers have very low water flows and above-average seasonal temperatures.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has taken the unprecedented step of suspending angling in some streams throughout the province, including the Kettle and West Kettle rivers.

While many other rivers and lakes across B.C. are still suitable for fishing, it is always good to review proper fish-handling practices, especially given the forecast for continued warm temperatures.

If you plan to practice catch-and-release, appropriate handling will dramatically increase the survival and subsequent recapture rate of fish.

There are many factors that contribute to whether a released fish will survive unharmed. Some of the most important include how long a fish is played, how it’s handled, where in the fish it’s hooked, the water temperature, and gear type.

During summer, trout will seek out deeper, cooler water. When hooked, they are brought up into warmer water which holds less dissolved oxygen and are very stressed—the longer a fish is played, the worse the impact. As a general rule, always reel fish in as quickly as possible.

Once at the surface, fish can either be netted, or gently handled in the water while the hook is removed.

Before landing the fish, wet your hands and the entire net bag to reduce the loss of protective slime and scales.

Use a net that is big enough to hold the size of fish you could expect to catch. The netting should be made of a soft, non-abrasive, knotless material, with mesh openings of less than 20 millimetres.

Some handy tools to have at hand, to remove hooks are hemostats (surgical pliers) or a pair of needle-nosed pliers. The latter can also be used to pinch down barbs.

All streams and rivers in our province, and many lakes, have a restriction to single barbless hooks—recommended for all catch-and-release fishing.

Keep the fish and net in the water while removing hooks. Hooks deep in the throat or in the gill arches should be left in place, and the leader cut as close to the hook as possible.

Most hooks will fall out within a couple of weeks. However, badly hooked or bleeding fish should be kept as part of your allowable catch.

Large fish can be kept calm by turning them upside-down while in the net.

Once the hook is out, support the fish by placing one hand under the pectoral fins (behind the head) and forming a U-shape for the body to sit in.

With your other hand, gently grasp the narrow section just ahead of the tail (the caudal peduncle or “wrist”) and, with both hands in place, cradle the fish gently below the surface of the water until it swims away on its own.

If you’re fishing in a river, point the fish upstream into the current; when it begins to struggle, let it go.

If you want to take a picture of your catch, the fish should not be lifted out of the water for more than three seconds.

A fish destined for live-release should never be held vertically by the gills, or upside-down by the tail: these positions can cause serious damage to internal organs.

And during this time of severe environmental stress on fish, please consider minimizing the number of fish you catch and release.

If you plan to keep your catch, treat your fish humanely—dispatch it with a sharp blow to the top of the head, and clean it promptly.


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