Catch And Release Fishing

Photo of David Thorne and his 1st Murray cod Photo of David releasing his cod

Then 10 y.o. NFA member David Thorne's first native fish - a great Murray cod

A very happy lad releasing the fish in good condition

Catch and release fishing is gaining in popularity as more anglers are becoming concerned about state of some of our fisheries.  NFA encourages all anglers for Australian native fish to utilise catch and release whenever possible.

Young anglers in particular can be introduced to the concept at an early stage and often become enthusiastic exponents of the technique.

This is a short guide to some of the principals involved.

Simply letting the fish go after capture is not all there is to catch and release fishing.  Naturally, if the fish is released in such poor condition that is is likely to die anyway, the whole point is defeated.  Follow these guidelines and add common sense for best results!

Use appropriate gear for your target fish.

When you have hooked up, try to bring the fish in as soon as possible.  Of course the unexpected can happen and you can hook up to a "biggun" when fishing light, but if you are forever afraid of being busted off, perhaps you should be using heavier gear.

Using very light gear may give you a great sense of achievement in being able to land a fish way above the breaking strain of your line after a long drawn out battle of wills, but the most likely outcome for the fish, if released, is that it will soon die because of the build up of lactic acid in the body.

Use barbless hooks.

Experience has shown that there is no appreciable increase in the number of fish lost when using barbless hooks.  Indeed, some anglers claim that their success rate is higher when using them, as barbed hooks sometimes penetrate only as far as the barb due to the large increase in the diameter of the hook at this point.

Modern chemically sharpened hooks, with their small barbs crushed flat with a pair of pliers are a good choice for all situations.

Do not use stainless steel hooks

Stainless steel hooks do not dissolve in the stomach acids of fish when they are gut-hooked.

Pay attention when bait fishing.

Staying alert and at the ready when bait fishing has many advantages.  Quite a lot of our native fish have subtle bites and you need to be on your guard.  On the other hand, fish like Murray cod and golden perch can be very quick to reject a bait if they feel a hook (actually this is a natural behaviour from when they are feeding on yabbies - if the yabby is not taken in quite the right way, it is able to nip the fish with its pincers, so the fish sucks it in very quickly and then spits it out again just as quickly if it is not right).  Paying attention ensures that you do not miss so many bites and that when you strike, you are far more likely to lip hook the fish, which simplifies release substantially.

Land the fish only if necessary.

If you must remove the fish from the water do so as gently as possible.  Do not suspend large fish by the line, lower jaw or gills as this places enormous strain on the throat latch and will probably cause fatal injuries.  In fact large fish should really never be removed from the water if you intend to release them. 

Learn the "comfort lift" for small to medium sized fish.  By placing your hand flat and lifting the fish out of the water by its side you will find that the fish will remain motionless for quite some time.

Protect the fish's slime coating.

Have a suitable place to put the fish while you work on removing the hooks.  A wet towel or other wet cloth is a good choice.  Always wet your hands before handling the fish.

Remove the hooks carefully.

If using barbless hooks and if the fish is lip hooked, this is a very simple process of simply allowing the water to support the fish, grasping the hook (with pliers if necessary) and then turning it to release the fish.  No need to take the fish from the water here.

If the fish has obviously swallowed the bait right down, simply cut the line off as close to the mouth as possible and allow the fish to swim away.  The fish will usually be able to get rid of the hook itself if it has no barb, or it will be dissolved.  Never pull on the line of a gut hooked fish in an attempt to recover your hook, this will severely injure the fish and will probably kill it.

Where the fish has the hook in it mouth, gills or throat or it is otherwise visible, it can generally be removed by a pair of long nosed pliers or forceps.  Since you are using a barbless hook (aren't you?), this is usually only a matter of backing the hook out of where it has become lodged and then removing it.  If you can see the hook, but it will not come out, a pair of side cutter can be use to cut the hook, preferably in the bend.  This will greatly assist the fish in getting rid of it itself.

If the hook has become lodged in the gills, the situation can be more complicated.  If the fish is a legal angling species, is over the size limit and is bleeding from the gills, it is probably better to kill it humanely and keep it.  If there is little or no apparent bleeding or the fish is a protected species or undersize, you can try to remove the hook, if this is possible without doing any more damage, but sometimes you are best to cut the hook with side cutters.  As a last resort, simply cut the line as close to the hook as possible.  When working around the gills, always take great care not to injure the delicate gill filaments.

"Flared gills syndrome"

Murray cod and especially trout cod sometimes seem to go into a spasm where they appear to become paralysed and the operculum (gill covers) flare out widely.  This seems most common when the hook is embedded in the bony parts of the upper or lower throat around the gill arches.  It has been suggested that this may a triggering of the crushing response that cod employ when swallowing yabbies and spiny freshwater crayfish

In any case, if this happens, and the hook is in the throat or gills, you must remove all of the hook if you wish to release it, otherwise the fish seems unable to recover.  Then place the fish in the water, close the operculum with your hands and bend its body from side to side in an imitation of a fish's natural swimming motion.  The fish will usually then "come out of it" and you can let it swim away.

Release the fish

Release a fish by holding it upright in the water, into current or, if there is no current, by "swimming" it around until it swims off on its own.  A job well done!

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