Catch and Release Smallmouth Fishing
Why would I want to catch and release the fish I catch?This is a common question among friends who hear about me going fishing and wonder, “do you eat the fish?” When we’re catching 50 smallies per day, that would be a lot of eating. More importantly, the fish population would be wiped out very quickly.
- We catch, photo and release smallmouth bass because we want them to live to fight another day. Gone are the days where we need to catch fish for a meal. Most states have severe restrictions on the number of fish that are allowed to be kept. With proper handling, quick hook removal and rapid return into the water, the survival rate of bass is typically quite high.
- We want them to protect their nests. Catching fish during spawning can greatly reduce the number of eggs and fry (baby fish) that survive. Immediately releasing the fish, can help reduce this effect.
- Many bodies of water are polluted. In many areas, the water appears clean and healthy but it is often contaminated with substances not visible to the human eye. Runoff from farms, industrial sites and human waste contaminate the water and the fish living there with things like mercury, lead, hormones and drugs that can be harmful to your health if eaten in too large of quantities.
- It is a pain in the butt to clean fish. Yes, I said it. Unless you really know what you are doing, it takes way too long to clean the fish and by the time you avoid the bones, you may be left with only a small amount of meat.
There are some guidelines to follow that will greatly improve the chances of your fish surviving.
- Use artificial baits and pay attention! When using live bait, the smallmouths will suck in the food and not reject it so it goes into the esophagus and stomach. If that happens, pulling on the hook can cause internal damage. When using artificial baits, if you don’t set the hook at the right time, most bass will reject it as a food and you also don’t catch them.
If you gut hook a smallmouth, just cut the line or the hook, if you have cutters. In many cases, they will be able to eat even with a fish embedded into these areas.
- Use fishing line, rod and reel that will allow you to retrieve your catch quickly. Ultralight equipment may be a challenge but it allows the fish to fight longer, stressing it out and causing a release of lactic acid, which has been shown to decrease survival.
- Get some needle nose pliers and get the hooks out quickly. Support the fish and try to avoid excessive handling. Using pliers will allow you to get a better grip on the hook and remove it properly.
- If it takes longer to get the fish back into the water, hold onto the bass and move it through the water slowly, mimicking swimming forward to help water pass through the mouth and gills. Since fish get oxygen from the water as it passes through the gills, this can be an effective technique for reviving a stunned fish. Hold onto the fish until it swims away.
Taking these steps will make you feel good and allow those fish you catch now to survive and grow for you or your kids to catch on another day! Thanks for caring and practicing catch, photo, release smallmouth fishing. Oh, and don’t forget to give them a kiss!
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