Salomone: Safe fish-handling recommendations
Have a planned approach to the responsible release of caught fish
Vail Valley Anglers
When it comes down to it, more damage is often inflicted on trout during the handling than the hookset. Errant thoughts in the heat of the moment often obscure proper techniques. Safe fish handling isn’t a mistake or a given. It is a planned approach to releasing a caught fish, restoring the fish’s energy and ensuring the fish is returned in a responsible manner.
As a conscionable guide, it is imperative that I look out for the fish that enhance my livelihood. Some recommendations for safe handling begin before you reach for the fish. There is an ever-growing opinion that once a trout is hooked, the fight should be shortened as much as possible. Heavier tippet allows anglers to “put the wood” on them as one friend puts it. A fish that is landed in a shorter amount of time has a higher chance of recovery than a fish played to exhaustion and in need of resuscitation.
Minimize the frequency you touch the fish when landing. A fish that has to be grabbed and grabbed again is being handled too much. The scrambling to control a trout that anglers impart upon caught fish lowers the chances for a successful release and fish survival.
Like I have said in the past, a net is the most efficient tool for sealing the deal and minimizing fight time and improper fish handling. Not just any old net. A rubber basket net is the tool of preference. Older string nets have a detrimental effect on trout by lifting their protective slime layer. If you have a sentimental attachment to your grandpa’s old trout net try replacing the string net with a rubber style and extend the longevity of the useful tool. Another word of advice surrounding rubber nets is to wet the net before landing a trout. I know it sounds foolish but a dry rubber net on trout skin will lift the slime.
Proper handling is a premeditated approach. Anglers anticipate success on the water, (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t) and prepare for easing the release. One way to enhance the process is to pinch down your barbs in advance. Barbless flies are not the handicap some anglers profess. The best way to remove a hooked fish is to ease the hook out of purchase, and the easiest way to accomplish that task is with a pinched barb fly.
Support Local Journalism
Living on the bank of the Eagle River, I observe the angling habits of numerous anglers. What I have seen is an ever-growing desire for recognition, a “look at me” mentality that some anglers equate to likes on social media. Trust me, I have very little respect for “influencers,” but that is a separate discussion. The following is an example of what I mean.
I once watched a young angler fight a fish in the river below my house. As I stood on my deck, I checked my watch. One minute, two minutes and three minutes passed as the angler gingerly maintained control of the mediocre sized trout. I could see the dainty touch he was using; he didn’t want to lose this fish. Finally, he reached out with his short handled net and made the scoop. Whew, that’s over, I thought.
Then it started to get really good.
With the fish in the net, the angler waded over to the bank. He took off his pack and set up his little tripod and camera, all with the fish still in the net. Then he proceeded to video a lift-and-drip clip four times. He would drop the fish in the net, reset the camera, grab the fish again and repeat the shot. Ugh!
Think about what you are doing. Don’t let the necessity for social media attention overshadow your common sense. Instagram can kill a fish, too. The narcissistic need for social media recognition does more damage than most anglers realize. Let’s get past the “I need it for the post” focus.
A little common sense and a premeditated approach to safe fish-handling will ensure the longevity of our sport. Practicing handling techniques that reinforce the trout’s survival are imperative. Landing nets, pinched barbs and shorter battles combine to increase fish survival after the release. Delivering a responsible fishing ethic to the river is all up to you.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites including, Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow Labrador retrievers.