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Catch and Release Fishing- How to Safely Handle a Trout

This subject has been covered a thousand times but it is important to always make sure we handle trout as gently as possible. Plus, with all the new anglers around, it is a good topic to cover. As catch and release anglers, our goal is to return the trout to the water with very little harm done to the fish. We should always keep in mind that even though a trout swam off on its own, it could still end up dying within 24 hours when we don’t practice good catch and release methods.

There are several things we can do to (and not do) that will help the trout survive.Wild Brown Trout

  1. Don’t overplay the fish. I am a huge fan of 4x leaders and tippet and don’t go smaller unless I have to. On our small, wild streams, I will use 4x mono to my dry and 4x flouro to my dropper. I prefer 4x because we can land the fish faster and not over stress them. When the fish hits your net, it should still have a lot of energy.
  2. That brings us to nets. If you don’t plan on taking a picture, there is no reason to net a trout. Many times, I get the fish to me and with it still in the water, reach down and pop the fly out with my forceps. If you aren’t good at popping the fly out or need to net it, rubber nets are by far superior to cloth nets. Cloth nets can remove the protective coating of trout. Imagine this protective coating is like your immune system; it is there to keep the fish from getting bacteria, parasites, and other nasty things.
  3. Never drag a fish onto the bank. This is one of the best ways to ensure they will die. When a trout bounces on the bank, it is beating up its internal organs. Safe Fish Handling
  4. Before you touch a trout, you should always wet your hands. Dry hands will also absorb their protective coating.
  5. The trout should stay in the net and the net in the water until you are ready to take a picture. I was speaking to Mike Lopez, Fish Biologist with Arizona Game and Fish, and he said that if trout are out of the water for 60 seconds, it has a 70% chance of dying. 70 PERCENT! He suggested that it not be out of the water for more than 30 seconds and even that might be too long. You should lift the trout up, take the picture and then quickly put it back in the water.
  6. Use barbless hooks. I am always amazed when I talk to catch and release anglers who tell me they use barbed hooks. That is another way to kill a trout. Barbed hooks are difficult to remove and when you are squeezing the fish, trying to remove the barb, you are doing more harm than good. We want to blame barbless hooks when we don’t land a fish but most of the time it is bad hook setting and not keeping enough tension on the line that is the culprit for “the one that got away”.
  7. Never dig a hook/ fly out of a fish. If the hook is deep, cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Once you make a trout bleed, it will not recover. In many cases when you cut the line, the fish will either digest the hook or it will rust out.
  8. Releasing the fish is also very important. You want to make sure it has enough energy to swim out of your hands. Hold the fish in the water and gently move it back and forth. If you are in current, place it facing the current. I hang onto the trout until it seems to have enough energy to swim away on its own.

As catch and release anglers, it is always a good idea to practice safe trout handling methods to make sure that the trout is around to fight another day.



About Cinda Howard

Cinda Howard has been an Arizona fly fishing guide for several years. She’s spent her whole life fishing and picked up a fly rod in 1996. She worked for the Orvis Company as a Fly Fishing Manager for eight years before branching off and starting her own business in 2012. Cinda spends a considerable amount of time instructing people on the sport of fly fishing. Cinda has been featured in several fly fishing articles and books (“Fly Fisher’s Guide to Arizona” by Will Jordan, “Arizona’s Official Fishing Guide” by Arizona Highways and Arizona Game and Fish Department) as an expert on fly fishing Arizona. She is extremely passionate not only about fly fishing but also about teaching others. She hosts trips all across the world and has taken customers fly fishing in Alaska, Belize, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and The Bahamas. Cinda loves to fish for trout, steelhead, pike, carp, bonefish, tarpon and anything else that will eat a fly. She is a past President of Desert Fly Casters and is a Zane Grey Trout Unlimited board member.

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