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Whether you’re new to fishing or an experienced pro, chances are you practice some form of catch-and-release fishing. Something that was once only popular in fly-fishing has now found its way into mainstream angling. The reasons for releasing fish vary: from anglers who like to fish but hate the taste, to anglers who practice strict conservation methods in the hope of sustaining a healthy fishery for future generations.
To best ensure the lowest mortality rate possible for your catch, turn your attention to these five basic areas: selection of gear, fighting the fish, hook removal and proper fish handling, revival and release, and leaving no trace.
Here’s what you need to know, to let them go and let them grow.
Selection of Gear
Treble hooks: These hooks can cause a lot of damage to your catch. Avoid them at all costs. Most hard baits from the store come pre-hooked with this style of hook. You can easily replace these stock hooks with J-hooks, which can even increase your hard bait performance in the water.
Just about all hard-bait manufacturers use a small split ring to connect the hook to a metal loop that is embedded into the lure during the manufacturing process. These split rings are just like miniature versions of the ring you keep your car keys on, but opening it with your fingers may be difficult for some, due to the small size. To solve this problem and avoid getting a hook in your hand, pick up a pair of split ring pliers. You can find these in most tackle shops and hobby shops, since they are also popular with jewelry makers.
Using the split ring pliers, open up the split rings on your hard bait. Remove the stock treble hooks and replace them with J-hooks or circle hooks.
Since J-hooks and circle hooks create less drag in the water than treble hooks, you may notice a significant increase in your lure’s action when fishing. This is a good way for aspiring tournament anglers to experiment on heavily fished waters.
J-hooks: these hooks are used a lot for live bait, but can still gut-hook a fish. Circle hooks are best.
Circle hooks: these hooks are designed so that the point is turned away from the shank to form a circular shape. This allows the hook to pass back through the fish’s stomach should it be swallowed, and hook in the corner of the lip once line pressure is applied by the angler. These hooks have been heavily researched by biologists and are a must for all catch-and-release anglers.
De-barb your hooks: use a pair of pliers to squish the hook’s barb down. Once the fish takes the hook, be sure to keep solid pressure on your line and reel fast. This will help prevent the fish from spitting the hook out during the fight.