Many anglers practice catch-and-release fishing, and in some places, it is required.
Take salmon and steelhead anglers for example. Any wild fish they catch must immediately be released unharmed because wild fish can't be harvested.
Same goes for bull trout, and in most Idaho rivers, cutthroat trout must also be released unharmed.
If you're not fishing for those species, it's still good to know how to properly handle fish so they stand a good chance of surviving after they're released.
Even if you're fishing for food, you may catch a fish that can't be harvested, such as one that is undersized fish, or a fish species that's out of season.
Here's how to do it:
If you're releasing most of what you catch, use barbless hooks, even if they're not required. A single hook is much easier to unhook than a treble hook. Pinch the barbs down with pliers.
Use artificial lures or flies. Fish are more likely to swallow bait, and a swallowed hook is difficult to remove without harming the fish.
If a fish swallows your bait, cut the leader. The fish has a better chance of surviving an ingested hook than it does an injury sustained by removing a deep-set hook.
Try to release the fish while it's still in the water. The easiest way to do it is with a net. Use a net with rubber or cloth mesh. The traditional knotted mesh in a net can remove a fish's protective slime and knock off scales, making them susceptible to disease.
Always wet your hands before handling fish. Handle them gently and try to support their whole body if you lift them out of the water, which you should try to avoid. Don't hold them only by the jaw or tail, and never touch their gills or put your finger inside the gill plate.
Use forceps, needle-nose pliers or other types of hook removers. Carefully back out the hook, don't yank it.
Land a fish as quickly as possible. Fighting them to exhaustion makes it less likely they will survive after being released.
Have a plan for releasing fish if you're in a large boat, or a small, tippy boat, such as a canoe. You don't want a fish flopping in the bottom of the boat when you're trying to unhook it. You may suspend it in a net, or put it in a live well, a bucket of water or something similar to keep the fish protected until it's released.
Make sure the fish is revived enough to swim away on its own. Hold it in the water facing the current. If you're not in moving water, gently wiggle the fish back and forth to get water moving through its gills.
When releasing fish, keep a net handy. If the fish goes belly up after you release it, you probably exhausted it, but keep trying to revive until it swims away. Try to land it quicker next time.
Idaho Fish and Game also offers these guidelines for taking photos of fish you plan to release:
Have the camera ready and the shot framed before removing the fish from the water.
When lifting a fish from the water, wet your hands before touching it.
Support the fish with both hands as you gently lift it from the water.
Hold the fish over the water so if it struggles from your hands it will fall back in the water and not onto a hard surface such as a rock or a boat floor.
Hold the fish out of the water only as long as it takes to take a picture.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors