Good Intentions… Don’t Always Work

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Posted by: Captain Woody - Comments Off on Good Intentions… Don’t Always Work


Catch-and-release angling is on the increase, which means many anglers are starting to view the process as a conservation practice. Mostly voluntary at this point catch-and release is hook-out-cartoon1being federally mandated in certain areas, to conserve our marine fisheries.

There is generally a lack of understanding regarding the level of mortality associated with the practice despite its widespread use. Folks believe that just putting a fish back means it’s going to survive; not so! Regardless of good intentions, the lack of understanding and the many variations in release and handling fish are till dying. Fortunately, the increase in catch-and-release has coincided with an increase in research and general recommendations based on available information.

Lactic Acid: Should be a major concern for light tackle anglers. Fish employ two basic muscle groups red and white. The red or dark muscle has a rich blood supply running the length of the fish. These are aerobic in nature burning oxygen derived from the gills. They aid in swimming, and also allow the fish to maintain its position in a current.

The fleshy part of a fish consists of white muscles; used occasionally for seizing food, they’re mostly used to evade predators. A hook and line constitutes a predator; white muscles are used as they struggle to avoid capture. Depending on the fight time, enormous quantities of energy, generated when glycogen based carbohydrates, metabolize.

This destabilization of glycogen, in the bloodstream, triggers huge build-ups of lactic acid. This acid buildup leads to acute stress levels and repression of the immune system can eventually cause death.

Humans have similar anaerobic muscles that also create lactic acid. If you’ve ever exerted yourself, like lifting weights at the gym, you may notice an intense burn prior to complete fatigue. Conveniently we often recover from this acid buildup within a matter of minutes. Fish on the other hand, are not as fortunate, it often takes 12 to 14 hours and as much as 72 hours for complete recovery.

Any lengthy hook and line struggle burns excessive white muscle fuel, which results in total exhaustion and eventual surrender. Just because it swims away after release does not

guarantee its survival. Today, with many anglers claiming environmental consciousness, we must take into account: 1.) the longer the battle, the more exhaustion 2.) the more exhaustion the more lactic acid 3.) the more lactic acid the longer recovery time. Keep in mind, complete exhaustion and shortened recovery times often prove fatal; they’re unable to avoid natural predators or hunt down food. Ensuring a faster recovery becomes the responsibility of every responsible angler It’s up to us to enjoy the battle, but end it quickly, before the fish reaches the point of no return.

Keep em’ wet: Getting the hook out, taking a photograph and admiring your catch takes time… Time out of water is a determinate to survival. Gills sophisticated and delicate organscobia-release designed to work in water where they excrete carbon dioxide while simultaneously absorbing oxygen. The fragile gill lamellae quickly collapse when exposed to air. When this occurs, bad carbon dioxide levels (CO2) increase and good oxygen levels (O2). Basically, the fish cannot breathe efficiently when returned to the water.

The physiological response to catch-and-release practices is relatively well understood, little is known about the cumulative impact of sub-lethal stressors. Studies conducted at the Queen’s University in Ontario confirmed the mortality rate relates directly to gill damage suffered from prolonged exposure to air. During the study 28% or 3 out of 10 fish exposed to air and released within 60 seconds survived, the other 72% died within 12 hours. Further, minimal exposure for 30 seconds or less increased the survival rate to 6 out of 10 and those not exposed to air, substantially increased to 9 out of 10.

Catch-and-Release Guidelines: While catch-and-release is physiologically stressful; stress and trauma can minimize mortality by following some general guidelines. Most catch-and-release research has focused on examining species-specific responses to potential factors affecting mortality. The following recommendations are given to reduce catch-and-release mortality for most species.

Angling Techniques:
• Daiichi Circle hooks will minimize the chance of deep hooking.
• Barbless hooks are easier to remove and reduce handling time.
• The use of artificial lures should be encouraged.
• Fishing lines left unattended have a greater chance of deep hooking.
• Fishing line should be adequate for species being sought. It prevents line breakage and reduces on-hook time.
• Hot and cold water temperatures affect survival. There are times when good intentions fail, especially during cold and warm months. Now you face the decision of keeping it for dinner or returning it to the food chain. If you’re keeping it for dinner, make certain it’s within the legal limits.

Landing Fish:
• Fish should be retrieved quickly to prevent exhaustion.
• Fish should be landed by a wet hand, where possible.
• Landing nets when required should be knotless and made of soft rubber. Frabill offers a complete line of Conservation Series Nets.
• When landing extremely large fish, consider using a landing cradle.

Handling and Photographing:
• Always use wet hands.
• Never place your fingers through gills or in the eyes.
• Never hold heavy fish by the jaw, it can damage the jaw and vertebrae.
• Hold fish horizontally to avoid damage to the internal organs.
• Keep fish in the water to minimize gill exposure to air.
• Have camera ready prior to landing.
• Photograph the fish in water, when possible.

Un-hooking Fish:
• Have long nose pliers available to back the hook out.
• Remove the hook quickly, keeping the fish underwater.
• Cut the line close to the hook, if deeply hooked and release quickly.
• Avoid stainless steel hooks they take longer to corrode.

• When there is current hold the fish upright facing the current.
• Without a current, gently move fish back and forth until gill movements return to normal and it can maintain its balance.
• When the fish begins to struggle, let go and watch.

Fatigue, sub-level stressors, and air contribute to fish mortality. Anglers intentionally extending a battle with ultra-light tackle, usually signs a death warrant for the unwilling participant. Longer than needed battles creates unnecessary stress levels resulting total exhaustion and sometimes death. Knowing your target and common sense should dictate tackle requirements.

We must educate ourselves about the proper techniques to ensure their survival when catching and releasing these wonderful creatures. Encouraged it, and become an ethical angler by releasing your catch with minimal damage.

Captain Woody Gore is an outdoor writer, photojournalist, and speaker. He also guides fishing charters in the Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs, Bradenton, and Sarasota areas. Fishing these areas for over fifty years he offers memorable fishing adventures. Capt Woody’s website is located at: WWW.CAPTAINWOODYGORE.COM or give him a call at 813-477-3814

This article is owned by Capt. Woody Gore and is copyright protected. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by Capt. Gore. wgore@ix.netcom.com