Story last updated at 7/29/2009 - 11:18 am
While sport fishing, landing your catch as fast as possible is obviously important. But to do so on a consistent basis requires a bit of skill, some practice in the field, and a general understanding of when (and where) to apply pressure with your rod. Once this important skill is mastered, however, game fish of remarkable size and strength such as salmon or even tarpon and blue fin tuna can all be handled and tamed with appropriately matched commercially available fly rods.
But there's another very important, yet often overlooked, reason to land your catch as fast as possible and that's if you must release your fish unharmed. When this is your objective, or when regulations require you to practice catch and release angling, a quick fight will significantly improve the odds that the fish you just landed will have the best chance of survival once it's released.
Although there are many different ways to handle and release fish, the objectives are still the same: minimize the stress placed on the fish and get it back into the water as quickly as possible. Generally speaking, a hooked fish undergoes two types of stress: physical stress from being hooked and handled, and metabolic stress (or lactic acid build up) from the actual fight and battle. As catch and release sport fishers, it's important that we fish responsibly and that we are fully aware of these two avenues of stress. And it's equally important that we know how to mitigate the inherent affects that stem from them. By minimizing these two areas of stress, we can significantly increase the likelihood that the fish we catch will survive once it's released.
One of the easiest ways to minimize physical stress is by using "barbless" flies. Barbless hooks enter quickly and cleanly and can be easily removed with very little damage placed on the fish. Second, by using appropriately matched fly rods for the fish you are targeting, you will be better suited to play and land your catch quicker. This practice alone, of landing your catch as fast as you can, significantly reduces any additional physical harm and lactic acid build up.
How we handle and release our catch is also important. Once the fish is ready to be landed do whatever is necessary and safe - for both you and the fish - in order to keep the fish in the water. Always use wet hands when you must tail or handle your catch. This will lessen any potential damage to their protective outer mucus layer. Gently remove the hook and upright the fish. Then position it "head first" directly into the flow of the river or creek to ventilate its gills. This procedure allows for oxygenated water to flow freely over their gills while at the same facilitating the removal of various metabolic toxins. The signs of a revived fish are moving gills and the ability to actively and freely swim from your supporting hands. It's imperative not to release a fish if these two signs are not clearly evident.
With fly-fishing noted as the fastest growing segment of recreational sport fishing in the United States, now more than ever, anglers must come together and advocate personal angling responsibility in order to accommodate this increase in popularity in the sport. Catch and release angling, in my opinion, is a step in that direction. It offers an exciting, rewarding and conscientious approach to sport fishing while at the same time it offers us the freedom to enjoy all the features of recreational fishing. Reflect upon this and treasure the moment the next time you choose to release your catch.
Good luck angling and tight lines!
Rich Culver is a fly-fishing freelance writer and photographer and member of the Scott Fly Rod Company's Pro Staff. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.