- Use circle hooks when bait fishing to reduce striped bass mortality.
- Use single hook artificial lures if you are planning to catch and release.
- Use barbless hooks to aid in quick releases.
- Keep fish in the water during the release process.
- Avoid nets when possible. If you decide to use a net, make sure it has a plastic coating on the mesh to reduce slime loss.
- Limit touching the fish to reduce slime loss.
- Properly revive striped bass by pointing the nose into the current so water flows over the gills allowing the fish to regain strength.
- Never remove fish you do not plan to keep from the water when air temperatures are above 90 degrees.
To read more about Best Practices please visit the Science page.
Angling is one of the most popular recreational sports in the United States, particularly around the Chesapeake watershed. To maintain and increase healthy fish populations, it is important that angling is done carefully, legally, and in a way that helps reduces the stress on fish so they not only survive but thrive.
Size limits allow fish to grow to spawning age, and creel limits make sure they aren’t killed as soon as they reach optimum spawning age. Honoring fishing regulations and handling fish carefully for release helps conserve fish populations.
Releasing any fish helps conserve stocks but the biggest fish are the most valuable spawners. A 30-pound striped bass can produce 1.5 million more eggs than a 10-pounder. Smaller fish usually taste better anyway.
Anglers can also play an important role in fisheries management by getting involved in tagging programs. If a tagged fish is caught, clip off the tag and follow the instructions to return it. The information gained helps biologists estimate abundance, migration, and mortality rates.
Rewards are offered for returned tags by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 800/448-8322 and by other agencies and organizations. Programs are also available in which anglers can tag the fish they release. Contact the Virginia Game Fish Tagging Program, 757/491-5160; the American Littoral Society, 723/291-0055; and the BOAT/US Clean Water Trust, 888/245-2628 for more information.
The key to careful angling is smart planning; decide what to keep for trophy and dinner. Have all the tools and tackle necessary for quickly and properly releasing fish.
Leave the “Big One” for Tomorrow
Take a photograph of your fish
Measure the fish’s length and girth; you can have a taxidermist make a fiberglass replica from these measurements.
Creed of the Careful Angler:
As a good steward of the resource trying to conserve fishing for tomorrow, I will: commit to keeping only the fish I need and strive for 100% survival of all released fish.
Catch-and-release fishing is an effective and fun way to conserve fish if certain precautions are observed. Studies to determine the impact that catch-and-release techniques have on striped bass have shown that the mortality rate increases substantially when the water temperature is higher and when salinity is lower. Avoid these situations whenever possible.
Whether fisherman choose to release fish or are required to do so by law, all released fish must be handled carefully to ensure a good survival rate. The angler controls four factors that affect a fish’s chance of survival:
- Exhaustion-the fight is tough on the fish. It can upset the fish’s chemical balance if it lasts too long, so bring the fish to boat quickly.
- Loss of Slime-Fish have a slime coating that seals out infection. Rough handling can destroy this protective layer.
- Time out of Water-As long as it is out of the water, a fish can’t breathe or restore its chemical balance.
- Wounds -Anglers can do a lot to minimize the damage of hook wounds both before and after the fish is hooked.
- Use strong enough tackle. Light tackle may be more sporting, but any fish you plan to release should be brought in quickly to minimize exhaustion.
- Use artificial baits whenever possible. Fish tend to swallow natural baits, while they are usually hooked in the lip or mouth by artificial ones. A lip wound is much less severe than a gut wound.
- Use barbless hooks. They are much easier to remove and mean less wounding and time out of water. Barbs can be easily bent or filed down.
- Set the hook quickly when using natural bait so the fish does not have time to swallow.
- Use circle hooks when fishing with live bait to minimize gut wounds.
- Reduce the use of treble hooks to minimize wounding and time out of water.
- Have catch-and release gear ready (including camera and ruler) to shorten time out of water.
If you must remove the fish from the water:
- Remove the fish carefully by supporting its weight in an upright position with your hands and lifting straight up.
- Use a shallow landing net, preferably of rubber of knotless nylon. These nets will remove less lime and will reduce wounding and time out of water.
- Keep control of the fish so that it cannot flop around and cause further wounds or loss of slime.
Use a fish dehooker to quickly remove a hook while keeping the fish in or over the water. There will be little or no slime loss or time out of water. You can make or buy a dehooker.
Handling and Releasing the Fish:
- Handle fish carefully using wet cotton gloves or a wet towel to minimize slime loss. If you must use your hands, be sure to wet them first.
- Cradle the fish on its back and cover its eyes. This will calm the fish, reducing wounding and slime loss.
- Always avoid touching the gills. This is where the fish takes in oxygen and slats from the water when recovering from exhaustion.
- Carefully return the fish to the water. Release it upright and head first.
- Revive an unresponsive fish by moving it gently forward in the water.
- Carefully remove hooks inside the mouth, gill, or gullet with tools like forceps or needlenose pliers.
- When the hook is in the stomach, use a disgorger or deep throat-type tool to remove the hook quickly with minimal stress, or cut the line and leave the hook.
- If a fish is obviously injured, make this fish part of your creel, and adjust your fishing to avoid this problem.