If you’re fishing catch and release, it’s important to know how to properly remove the hook so that the fish can swim to see another day, and fishing ethically is important to accomplish.
Knowing how to properly remove a hook without causing harm to the fish is fundamental for multiple reasons. While some might be fishing for food, sometimes you land a fish outside legal regulations, or maybe you’re just fishing for sport. It is in these situations that you will need these tools.
If a fish becomes gut-hooked, many fisheries biologists suggest cutting the line as close as possible to the hook and leaving the hook lodged in the fish to dissolve slowly. Gut hooking a fish happens when an angler has caught an undersized fish, and the hook is embedded deep down its throat. Cutting the line close to the hook and letting it remain in the fish keeps the fish out of the water for the shortest amount of time, and you aren’t tugging on a hook that is deeply lodged in the body of the fish, which could cause more damage.
The solution to this problem is using bronze or steel hooks which are made to be more dissolvable fish hooks than stainless steel, cadmium-plated, and nickel-plated hooks, which may take much longer to dissolve, especially in freshwater locations. Also, note that “dissolvable hooks” made from steel or bronze can still take weeks or months to break down.
Tools for Removal
Avoid ripping, tugging, and pulling when trying to unhook your catch. This motion causes harm to the fish and can damage its jaw, which hinders its ability to eat but can also rip the fish open. Needle nose pliers, forceps, or a dehooking tool helps with a smoother removal process when holding the fish in the water or inside a rubber landing net. Proper tools will reduce the time and handling of the fish.
Use a circle hook if you’re fishing with natural baits such as minnow, shrimp, or worms. A circle hook is a type of fishhook that is sharply curved back in a circular shape— it’s the most commonly shaped hook when you think of one. It has become widely used among anglers in recent years because the hook generally catches more fish and is rarely swallowed, leading to a better chance of survival after being released. Circle hooks are best for catch and release when fishing with live or natural baits because the hook’s shape helps prevent deeply hooked or gut-hooked fish.
Another helpful trick is to use lures with single hooks versus treble hooks. You can swap out the treble hooks on your lures with single hooks and crimp down the hook’s barb. This can be done by holding your pliers on the tip of the hook. Holding the forceps parallel or straight with the hook causes the barb to bend back and down instead of weakening or breaking the hook. Barbless hooks are viewed as one of the best catch-and-release or easy-release hooks.
While there has long been a debate about whether you’re hurting the fish during catch and release methods, minimizing your impact and handling the fish is an ethical practice that should be executed with every bite you catch.