Best Fish Handling Practices
REDUCE FIGHT TIME BY USING APPROPRIATE GEAR
Gear that is not strong enough to land fish quickly will prolong fight times and could tire a fish out beyond the point of recovery. Even if you're planning to keep the fish, if it becomes unhooked during the fight it may not survive.
DON'T BANK IT
Fish don't do well on dry land, their protective coating will get scraped off and leaves them vulnerable to infections from bacteria, viruses, and fungus. Even if they're laying there for just a "quick second" while you grab your camera, the damage is already done. The solution?... use a net!
KEEP FISH WET
Exposure to air, for even very short periods, can harm fish. Fish can't breathe air! So, after you've landed the fish keep the fish's head in clean undisturbed water and pointed upstream if you're in current. If you're going to take a photo, consider keeping the fish's head under water. If you are going to lift the fish out of the water keep that time to a minimum, try for a maximum of 3 seconds, and only once!
GET YOUR FINGERS OUT OF THERE! OFFER THE RIGHT SUPPORT INSTEAD
The gills, eyes, and internal organs of a fish are very easy to damage. Images of fish being held up and gripped from under the gill plates should be a thing of the past.
Hold the fish horizontally by supporting the underside of the fish, and don't squeeze and don't dig your fingers in! Internal organs may be damaged if pressure is applied. Think gentle, and be gentle!
RELEASE THE FISH ONLY WHEN THE FISH IS READY
The fish will tell you when it is ready. A strong kick and strong body movements usually are the sign a fish is ready to swim off. This may take anywhere from 1 second to many, many minutes - don't rush it.
Take your time with the fish, support it, don't pump the fish back & forth, and give it the time it needs to recover - you owe it to the fish.
Warm Water Caution for Coldwater Fish
If you're targeting trout, salmon, or steelhead, you need to know the facts to make sure that fish that come off your line while being fought, and the ones you release, swim away and have the best chance at recovery and survival - we owe it to the fish to understand their needs, and lessen our impact.
It is scientific fact, not opinion, that the effects of warm water on coldwater fish are deadly, the deadly effects are even worse when fish experience additional stress.
Fish need the oxygen found in water to breathe. While this is easy to do for coldwater species of fish (such as trout, salmon, and steelhead) when the water is cool, once the water is 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) and the fish become stressed by being hooked and fought, their survival rate significantly decreases. As water warms, its ability to provide oxygen to fish significantly decreases.
Coldwater fish have adapted with the need to breathe the amount of oxygen that is found in cold water, warmwater fish have done the same with warm water. If you take a cold water fish and expose it to warm water, things usually don't go very well.
So, what is a responsible angler supposed to do, and how do we monitor this?
Lucky for us, small portable thermometers exist!
If you don't have a thermometer in your pack or vest, we highly recommend that you do. We encourage you to fish by your thermometer, and monitor water temperatures before you start fishing, and often . A fish's metabolic rate also changes with water temperature, and knowing what temperature the fish are being exposed to also helps you adjust your presentation. But, we don't always have to head to the river to find out the what a river or stream may be reading on the mercury. Our two most well known trout fisheries in Southern Ontario have real-time water temperature monitoring stations. There are a few stations that monitor temperature on the Credit River, and a number of stations on the Grand River that do the same. You can check water temperatures, and water temperature trends, even before you get out of bed in the morning. We've done this often, rolled over, grabbed our laptops or phones, checked the morning water temperatures on the Grand or Credit, checked the forecast for sweltering air temperature then either gone back to bed because they were too warm, or jumped out of bed, into our trucks, to find our way to the water.