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Catch and Release

Considerations and Techniques

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"To capture the fish is not all of the fishing."

Zane Grey

When Appropriate, practice Catch and Release. Protecting this invaluable resource should be a priority, but that doesn't mean releasing everything. Consider these few things, and have a predetermined plan, so that you are able to safely release the fish you choose to.

Catch and Release Considerations...

Regulations: Size limits, or slot limits may require the release of the fish. Always know the current, local and State regulations whenever you're fishing.

Is Overpopulation a problem? If you're into some panfish and populations are strong, it is likely more beneficial to harvest a good number of these, within your legal take limit restrictions, of course.

Why practice Catch and Release in this situation? Fishermen are a vital predator to panfish (and other species). Don't hesitate to help control larger fish populations, particularly in smaller bodies of water.

Over population results in stunting. All the fish are so small. Who wants that? Bluegill are prone to stunting. Read about Bluegill Ice Fishing

Can you see the lake getting "Fished Out? If you're on a small lake, with many other fishing parties, the bite is on and has been for awhile now. This could lead to overfishing.

Many of those anglers may not even consider catch and release. Practice some restraint in these situations and release all, or most of your fish as you catch them.

Is this lake known for producing rare trophy fish? Why not do your part to preserve it? Catching a trophy fish gets your blood boiling like few other activities, but the best moment is the moment you first pull the fish from the water.

It's all downhill after that. If you kill the fish, it's beauty is gone forever. It immediately starts losing its magnificent coloration.

Nobody else will ever experience that fish again. Why not snap a couple of quick photos, and quickly measure the length and girth and then release it? Maybe your son will catch it again 2 years from now.

You see, the feeling you get from putting that beauty back into the water and watching it swim away may actually be a bigger thrill than the catch!

Could this fish be vital to maintaining healthy fish populations? The larger fish are typically the breeders. This fish may be a crucial element in maintaining healthy fish populations.

Consider keeping a few smaller ones while releasing the big ones. Sure the Division of Wildlife may stock this lake, but don't you think that could change overnight?

Factors like 'Whirling Disease' or state budget concerns may directly affect future stocking plans. Give serious thought to releasing her. Show her off with your photo, and then amaze your friends when you say "I released it!" "You gotta Respect the Fish!" Catch and Release has both obvious and hidden benefits.

Are you wanting some fresh fish for dinner? Awesome. Don't feel like the Lone Ranger. Keep a few nice ones, but keep only what you will eat. But, you gotta clean em, bummer. How sad is it when people fish go to waste? What a shame.

If you keep some to eat, then go home and eat em tonight. Fresh fish, right out of the lake is definitely a treat. Why stick them in the freezer?

Is this an invasive species, or an illegally transplanted species? If so, they are more than likely having an adverse affect on other fish populations. Your Fish and Game department may encourage their harvest with generous bag limits, or no limit restrictions at all. Obviously no Catch and Release here.

Are the fish you're catching skinny? If so, their may not be an adequate food supply for the fish population to thrive. Try to limit out and keep em all.

Releasing Tips & Techniques...

The oxygen needs of fish are less during the winter because the cold water slows down their metabolism. This makes it easier to safely catch and release fish while ice fishing. Additionally, proper fish handling and using barb-less hooks helps to ensure survival of released fish. Bending down the barbs with needle-nosed pliers works fine.

1. Do the following quickly so that you can get them back into the water quickly, so that they can breathe and so their eyes don't freeze, resulting in a blind fish if it survives.

2. Wet your hands (or gloves) before touching the fish. This is VERY important, and often overlooked. Fish have a protective, slimey coating that helps them resist disease and helps them stay warm. The slime sticks dry skin, dry gloves.

Handling with wet hands or wet neoprene type gloves helps to prevent loss of this mucus, reducing the possibility of bacterial infection. Also, try not to let the fish flop around on snow or ice.

3. Try to keep the fish in the water. If you need to pull it out of the water, do it quickly and gently. Don't squeeze the fish. Hold the fish upside down while removing the hook. This may pacify the fish and reduce handling time. Depending on the species and size of the teeth, you may be able to hold the fish by the bottom jaw or lip(obviously you don't want to try this with a Northern, even a small one).

Better yet, simply reach down in the hole with your needle nosed pliers, grab the hook and twist it out while maintaining tension on your line. Usually the fish will flip itself off as soon as you grab the hook. This can be done rather easily without ever removing the fish from the water. These fish have the highest survival rate.

Catch and release - hook removal

hook removal

4. If the hook is deep down in the mouth, or gills, just cut the line as close to the hook as you can. Fish contain an enzyme that dissolves the hook in a few short days.

5. You may have to hold the fish upright in the water for a few seconds and give it a swimming lesson if needed. Due to space limitations, this is more difficult in an ice hole, but seldom necessary in the winter. If needed, hold it vertically with its head down the hole and move it up and down until it swims down.

6. If the fish is bleeding from the gills, you may as well keep it, as it is done. It simply will not survive, even if it swims down the hole and out of sight. It happens occassionally. He'll make a nice meal.

It's your choice. BUT, Always RESPECT the fish. They certainly deserve it.

Thank you for reading this page, and GOOD LUCK Ice Fishing!

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