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Handling Trout

03/06/08 – The State Open Water Fishing Regulations (which are out nowState IF&W Logo stop in and pick up a copy) has a section titled Tips for Catching and Releasing Fish. The number one rule is TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. I couldn’t agree more.  There are some tools available to the fly fisherman that help you do just that.

Now they aren’t starting the time clock when the fish comes to your net or hand – the time clock starts at the moment of the take.  From that instant on the clock is ticking and the quicker you get the fish off the better the chance that fish will survive.

Now you might be planning on keeping the fish but you don’t know if it’s a keeper until you get it in and measure it so the quickness factorTippet Spools still applies. So how do you get a fish to hand quickly?  My standard answer to that question is “play it hard and fast.”

The most important tool for a quick landing is tippet.  After all tippet is the weakest link in the chain and if it fails the game is over.  We’re lucky in that area as today’s 4X tippet rates in the 6-pound test range – back in the days of Bergman, Brooks and Ovington 4X rated in at about 2-pound test.

I make it a rule to start with at least 4X if the hook will accept it and to work down in tippet size if I can’t hookup. Often I’m hooking up using size 16’s on 4X and others will tell me they had to drop to 5 or 6X.  The difference is I’m usually using about 4-feet of tippet and they are using about 2-feet.

The Release ToolKetchum Release tool is another aid for quick release. I’m surprised more people don’t use them.  I suspect it’s because the Ketchum Release tool, like a net, works best with barbless or bent down barbed hooks. But even with a barb the Ketchum tool is effective.  Once the fish is in close the Ketchum tool slips over the leader and you just follow down the leader until it hits the fly – a quick flip of the wrist usually just pops the hook out and off goes the fish without ever leaving the water – now that’s quick.

But without a doubt the standard hook removal tools are forceps.  ForcepsSome have straight jaws, some have curved jaw and some incorporate scissors or eye cleaners but they all clamp down on a hook and allow you to grab where your fingers just can’t go.   After the rod and reel setup, along with a few flies I tell people the only other things they ought to have are nippers and a pair of forceps.  The rest you can do without.  That’s quite a statement coming from a guy who’s vest weighs many pounds.

So play your fish hard – test that tippet strength – you’ll be surprised how strong tippet is if you apply steady pressure and work the fish.  If you get the fish in and can’t release the hook without removing the fish from the water (or you want a picture) remember to take care when handling the fish.

Wet you hands so you don’t remove all the protective slime fromLandlock Salmon a fish you hold.  Don’t squeeze the fish – the picture on the right shows you how not to hold one. If you do take a fish out of the water remember it’s suffocating and seconds count.  If something goes wrong drop it back into the submerged net or let it go without a picture. Some suggest holding your breath while the fish is out of water as a reminder that you’re causing stress.  Another holding no-no is holding by the gills.  Keep your fingers out of there.

When you put the fish back in the water if it needs to be revived hold it by the tail with one hand and cradle it under the belly with the other.  Keep it’s head facing into the current if you can and if needed you might move it forward and back to force some water through the gills. The fish will usually just kick out of your hand and swim off.  Watch it’s gills and you’ll often see strong gill movement just before they kick away. Sort of like us taking a deep breath before a heavy lift.

While many will argue Catch and Release doesn’t work or is cruel I for one am a proponent.  Wounded FishI’ve caught too many fish a second time to think it doesn’t work.  How do I know I’ve caught fish a second time – well – a fish with a wound like the one on the left is hard to mistake.  It’s amazing how strong some of these fish are yet squeezing which damages internal organs, and suffocation are things they just can’t recover from.

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