Many variations exist in today’s release ethics and methods. After seeing many discussions on various web sites I decided to share what I have learned from spending time with many friends up close with the fish.
Landing and Release Tools
The use of landing and release tools such as nets, cradles, gaffs or Boga Grips is essential. Some can be used in collaboration with one another. Tools are of necessary order as well including long nose pliers, bolt cutters, side cutters, and grip pliers.
Landing the Fish
When you get the fish to the boat, use your landing tool of choice to secure the fish. You then want to focus on removing the hooks to prevent potential injury to the fish and the angler. Paying attention to the fish’s disposition along boat side will prevent injuries. Use your various tools to remove the hooks as quickly as possible. For deeply embedded hooks, cut them with hook cutters and remove the pieces after the lure is removed from the equation.
Once you have removed the hooks, you want to allow the fish a recuperation period. Having a cradle or net are ideal tools to facilitate the rest period. Leaving the fish in the retaining tool will allow both the fish and the angler to settle down from the activity level they have both just experienced. The rest period may vary from one individual fish to another depending on the energy spent during the fight. A time period of 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the water temperatures, seems to be adequate.
The recuperation period helps ensure that the angler handles the fish with a cool and calm disposition. Often in the frenzy of the action, anglers mis-handle fish, and even drop them if they are too excited. Injuries to both the angler and fish will be prevented if a recuperation period is used.
Handling the Fish
Lifting the fish should be done with caution. Try and disperse the weight when lifting the fish out of the water. A net or cradle may be used for this purpose. When taking pictures of the fish, try and hold the fish with a little distance from your clothing and body. This will prevent slime removal, which could potentially lead to infections or disease. Consider how long you can hold your breath after running a quarter or half mile, even with 5 minutes of rest. The fish will be exhausted, so do not keep the fish out of water for prolonged periods of time.
Horizontal holds seem to be a growing trend and with today’s knowledge available, we should take notice of information provided about potential injuries.
Vertical holds can be potentially damaging to several areas of the fish. If you use this hold, remember to support the flanks of the fish. This will help displace the stress point of your hold off the head of the fish. It may also aid you in controlling the fish in case of movement. Limit your time will using this hold.
Several areas of stress are to be considered when vertically holding a fish. Muskies held in this position could experience severe ripping of the membrane beneath the lower jaw, as the V shaped connected tissue comes under significant stress. This is directly attached to the breathing areas (gills). The upper spine can come under strain leading to nerve damage. Internal injuries can be as vast as organ slippage, tearing of internal membranes or stretching of vital internal organs (developing eggs and ovaries). Many of these injuries may not be visible to the angler, but can result in post release mortality of the fish.
When handling fish, there seems to be no proper or best method. Airing on the side of caution and keeping the safety of the fish in mind should be considered.
Releasing the Fish
Place the fish back in the water with caution, ensuring to disperse the weight of the fish throughout its entire body. Allow the fish to recuperate one last time before it departs. Let the fish release itself from your hands under its own strength and ability. High water temperatures increase the chances of post release mortality. When water temperatures are warmer, a longer release should be considered. Water release pictures can be spectacular.
Take into consideration that this system or chain of steps can be improved, but it is what I have established when handling muskies. Steps leading from the capture through to the release should be well thought out and planned.
If capturing the memories of your day or fish is not of importance, consider water release as an option to limit handling and out of water time for the fish. Water release shots can and will be memorable and educational. I am not saying not to handle fish, but merely to consider the necessity of doing so. Is this a special fish which you need to handle extensively?
I am further interested in ideas that can improve my system. I fully understand that post mortal release will always be part of the equation, but bettering our ways of handling and releasing will increase our chances of successful release. With today’s do’s and don’ts we should open our minds to education while practicing our favourite sport so that future generations will be able to enjoy the resource as we do today.