How to Handle Fish from

Every fish we catch is a treasure, but many of us don’t treat them as such. I’ve seen anglers holding fish out of the water for what seems like days then heard them saying things like, “I don’t know why it won’t swim. The water’s cold.”

Yea, Einstein, but fish don’t breathe in the air!

All you have to do to see how poorly some of us treat fish is to check out the fishing shows—you’ll see anglers dropping fish in boats, on the rocky banks, and even committing the ultimate crime of sticking their hands in a fish’s gills. Think about it this way—how well off would you be doing if someone groped your lungs for a couple minutes?

For those reasons I don’t think it hurts to provide a refresher on the way we should handle fish, and I found a great tutorial at Andrew Bennett’s Web site,  I’ve reposted the words here for all to read. Have a great week and keep those fish happy!



Because you want to preserve healthy fisheries, and because it’s the right thing to do, you want your released fish to survive, and thrive, and get bigger, and make babies.

If you are going to raise a fish out of the water for a quick shot, keep them close to the water and only lift them for a few seconds. Then get them back in.

Here are 7 ways you can treat your fish better, no matter where you’re fishing, or what you’re fishing for.  Thanks for being a responsible angler!

7 Ways to Treat Your Fish Better

  1. Use barbless hooks.  Yes, barbless hooks do less damage to your fish’s face upon removal – but more importantly, barbless hooks make it much easier to release your fish quickly and with minimal handling.
  2. Minimize ‘air time’.  We all want hero shots – we get it.  You’re not taking the fish home in your cooler and you want a way to preserve the memory.  Keep the fish in the water until your photographer is ready.  Once she’s got the camera ready and taken the practice shot, lift the fish from the water, smile real pretty, get the pic, and get that fish back in the water.  If you must do it again, do it again – but minimize the time that the fish is out of the water.

    Everybody loves immortalizing their catch with a good photo, but that doesn’t mean you have to hurt a fish. This Dean River steelhead is happy and healthy and the angler (that’s me) got the shot he wanted.

  3. Fight him hard.  Apply as much pressure as you can.  Get the fish to hand as quickly as possible.  Long battles mean exhausted fish, and exhausted fish die more.  Fight hard and fast and get that fish back on its way.
  4. Stay away from the rocks.  Fish flopping around in the rocks can do serious damage to their own skulls – they’re just not built for that.  Find a spot to land the fish with as few sharp, hard objects as possible.  Sandy beaches are perfect!  If you’re in a run that’s totally lined with rocky shorelines, keep the fish in deeper water and do not swim him up onto the rocky bank.  You can land any fish that you need to land in a foot of water.
  5. Keep your fingers out of the gills.  In normal life, a fish’s gill plates protect its very delicate gills.  Once he’s been tired out to the point that you can grab him, he’s very vulnerable.  Please, please don’t reach up under his gill plates for the grip and grin – that’s a really nice handle but it’s also often a death sentence.
  6. Use appropriate gear.  “I landed a 25 pound king salmon on my 6 weight with 6 pound tippet!  It took 45 minutes!”  We’re not at all impressed by that.  That fish was so exhausted that it probably couldn’t even hold itself in the current on release.  Use the heaviest gear that’s practical so you can minimize fight times – see #3 above.
  7. Watch for predators.  This one is particularly relevant in saltwater.  Any fish that’s been landed is stressed out and not at the top of its game.  Make sure that you don’t release a fish right into the wheelhouse of a hungry shark or barracuda.  Here’s a great tip courtesy of our friends and Bonefish and Tarpon Trust – if you’re near some flooded mangroves, release your fish there.  That’s a great spot for him to find a place to hide while he rests up.  In fresh water, just look for cover.

Thanks again for being a responsible angler!



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3 Responses to How to Handle Fish from

  1. Malachi says:

    Thanks for the reminder! Along with landing them quickly, a boat net with a rubber bag is really nice for keeping fish in the water while unhooking them. Even when wade fishing a big net is a great thing to have along.

  2. sculpinator says:

    the one thing i like most about fishing in washington, is sparkys law. any fish which you intend to, or are required to release, may not be removed entirely from the water. a common sense rule in a state not known for common sense rules. simple, enforceable, and you will never see a wild steelhead flopping around on the bank, or dropped on the boat floor, lifted out of the water for a 5 minute photo session, etc. at least not legally. i’d like to see that here in montana, where common sense is at least a little more common. and you forgot my favorite “he’ll be just fine, look at him swim off ” kind like that deer you hit with your car going 70. they always drop dead on the spot, right?

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