All Anglers have a responsibility to fish responsibly…So when planning your next fishing escapade be accountable and plan ahead. Planning requires the responsibility for some ground work to ensure a successful outing. So make sure you have everything required for fishing, safety, and personal protection and geared toward a good day with family or friends.
But hang on, in today’s environmentally conscious world many anglers practice “catch & release” which throws a new wrench into the planning issue. Now we must plan for the safe and unharmed release of unwanted fish. Few areas of an anglers life begs more for dependable preparation than when returning an unharmed fish back to the water. Anglers have a responsibility not only to the fish, but other fishermen and this wonderful sport called fishing.
Over the year’s Florida’s adopted and enforces species specific seasons, restrictions, and boundaries along with size and bag limitations for both fresh and saltwater fish. It’s every angler’s responsibility to know, understand and abide by these regulations. We’ve been taught from an early age and understand that ignorance of the law is no excuse so be prepared and know the regulations. Copies are printed in various state and local magazines and supplied free of charge by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Whenever you’re fishing it’s a good idea to keep a copy for quick reference just in case you forget. All conscientious anglers bear an obligation to each other and the sport to report anyone abusing our laws.
As an avid “catch and release” angler or a beginner; if you’ve decided you’ll be retuning fish, your tackle should be adequate to handle whatever you might catch. As mentioned in other articles, it may be considered entertaining to battle large fish on light tackle unfortunately it comes at costly price to an exhausted fish. Battling for long periods produces increased levels of lactic acid and muscle fatigue. Afterwards it’s almost certain the fish has reached a perilous situation and may ultimately succumb. It’s essential whenever fish are released we make every effort to fully revive them. When released prematurely it may exhaustedly swim away, only to stop after short distance, and expire. Take the extra time… it pays off for everyone.
Quite possibility the number one reason fish become hooked in the throat, tongue or other life threatening areas can be contributed first to slow hook-sets and secondly conventional style J-hooks. Using J-hooks requires a fast hook set without any hesitation, preferably the moment you feel the fish. You’ll hear anglers talk about smashing down the barb on their hooks. It’s a good idea and works ok with single hook rigs used for artificial lures or lures with multiple treble hooks. However, if using live bait its difficult keeping baits on without a barb. But there’s a much better and recently popular way of avoiding damaging hook-sets. That’s using the up and coming style called a Circle Hook. Circle hooks were designed for catching fish in the outer edge of the mouth and originally intended for the long line industry. There is one realization we can all count on; regardless of hook style eventually we’ll hook a fish in a bad spot and they will die. It happens… no one likes it, it just happens.
Planning ahead and being prepared means having the right tools. You’ll need a sharp knife, long nose pliers, heavy diagonal side-cutting pliers (preferably with longer handles), fish handling glove, landing net, lip gripper, a good de-hooker, and an extra long de-hooker if fishing for large toothy critters like sharks.
Speaking of tools, in my estimation there’s one tool that saves more fish other than not fishing; a DE-HOOKER and for that reason every responsible angler should never leave home without one. Everyone hates handling catfish, ladyfish, lizardfish, puffers, jacks or just fish in general and for this reason you’ll love a de-hooker. They’re effortless to use; when the fish gets along side the boat, grab the leader and place it into the u-shaped portion of the de-hooker, slide it down into the throat of the hook, then keeping the leader taught by pulling on the hook and leader, lift the fish above your hand that’s holding the leader and shake gently. The fish falls off into the water.
A de-hooker cost you around $20 bucks. However it’s such a simple tool it can be homemade. Here’s how. Use a 10 inch piece of 1/8 to 3/16 diameter tempered stainless rod or if you have an old bicycle spoke it also works, a piece of old broom handle and some waterproof epoxy. Now make a small u-shaped bend in one end, drill a 1/8 to 3/16 inch hole 3 inches deep in the end of the broom handle, add epoxy to the hole and insert the rod allowing it to cure. Pretty simple huh? That’s why every angler should add this to their tool list.
Sometimes it becomes necessary to land a fish for better control when removing a hook. Here’s where the proper landing net come into play. Not the standard “El Cheapo” models with large rough meshes that removes the fish’s protective coating. But the soft, small mesh nets made of rubber coated nylon designed to inflict minimal damage and slime removal. Often fish get to the boat before you’re ready so go ahead net the fish, leaving it suspended naturally in the water. It now has time to stop thrashing and get its breath. Net manufacturers are beginning to show strides in producing fish friendly landing nets. For example, Frabill, a long time manufacturer of nets, live bait accessories, and fishing related products has introduced a “Tru-Trax Tangle Free Catch & Release Net” with extending handle that works exceptionally well and is fish friendly. I’ve used one for over a year and love it.
Another tool that showed up several year’s ago is the lip gripper. These tools aid in controlling fish for quick hook removal or photographs. Of course speed is the name of the game since fish need oxygenated water to breathe. So it’s important you’re prepared, plan ahead even before a fish is hooked. Always have the correct tools, camera and photographer ready. By now everyone realizes fish swim in a semi-weightless horizontal position. So it stands to reason it should never be suspended vertically for any length of time, especially large fish. If using a gripper or your hands always support the fish in a naturally horizontal position.
Ok, we’re down to the last part of this article and I’m sure this may ruffle some feathers, but its how I feel about hook removal on throat hooked fish. The practice and generally accepted philosophy tells us to cut the line close to the hook and leave it in the fish to rust away. Think about that statement? By our choice, today’s hooks are made of materials that naturally resist rusting. So expecting it to rust and fall out is ridiculous. The first reason, I believe fish hooked in the throat have a better chance of survival is removing the hook prevents further damage and infection. And secondly is throat blockage which may occur whenever the fish tries to eat, thus causing it to starve. Therefore, if carefully removed the blockage factor disappears and the wound stands a better chance of healing if the object causing the injury is gone. Much like a splinter in your finger, it never heals until it’s removed. Remember speed and accuracy is a premium when removing a hook. Quickly and carefully smash the barb or using heavy side-cutting pliers, cut the hook point well below the barb, remove the point, then pull the remaining piece out with the line. Even when hooked in the throat or esophagus the hook point and barb are normally exposed from the pull and easily cut. It’s not that difficult and it may save a fish.
Planning ahead means planning ahead… know the rules and regulations, use the proper tackle, have the proper tools: pliers, de-hookers, landing net, gripper, gloves and camera and be prepared to remove the hook and resuscitate the fish. Being responsible and protecting these unwilling participants in the sport of fishing is up to every Responsible Angler.
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