When you are fishing, part of an angler’s respect to the environment in which they catch fish is to treat the actual fish with the same respect we treat nature. In the same way you wouldn’t litter or be loud in the environment you are fishing it is equally important not to hurt or stress out the fish.
We simply want to observe their beauty and finish the catch by holding the fish, we don’t want to hurt them. We want the fish to happily swim away after being caught.
By nature, these tips only refer to angling that isn’t for catching and eating the fish, rather, this is for those who just want to fish and not affect the fish population.
Continue reading our guide for tips on ethical catch and release of fish, but also specifically trout.
Wash Your Hands!
This is a rule that should preface most things, but in this situation it is actually important for a few reasons.
Firstly, you want your hands to be clean. The environment you are grabbing the fish from is very different to our own. If you have some foreign material or, god forbid, chemical on your hands you could easily harm the fish for a long time. Just consider what is on your hands is going on the trout’s skin.
Secondly, if you have wet hands, the trout will be more comfortable within them. A trout shouldn’t be out of the water for a very long time, so the more you can increase the moisture on the fish’s scales, then the more comfortable they should be.
A Calm Approach Always Wins
The first thing you need to know about holding a trout is that you must always be calm when doing so, this will help ensure your success. Obviously, if you have caught a trout, you may be very excited and want to get your hands on the fish to get an idea of the weight of your catch.
Over-excitement can lead to injury, just like holding someone’s pet or even a small baby, you need strong but gentle hands. Remember that we are a serious margin larger than the trout, so the trout will be very scared. A calm hold can let the trout know you aren’t there to kill it and this can relax the fish.
Never try to grab it with your hands from the water, you obviously need to use a net to catch the fish on the line, this also needs to be done with caution – you don’t want the fish to get tangled in the netting. Once you have extracted the fish from the water you can reach into the net to lift the fish out.
Secondly, NEVER grab a fish by its gills. While you may see some people doing this on TV etc., it is considered very bad practice.
The gills of a fish are extremely delicate and are their main means of breathing. If you damage a fish’s gills they won’t be able to breathe and they will die. Grabbing a fish by their gills is like holding someone up by their lungs – not fun.
Gently place two secure hands underneath the fish, cradling it in your palms. Don’t use your thumb as the squeezing will send the fish into a manic escape. If the fish wiggles around a little this is okay, just wait for it to settle down a bit more, don’t feel the need to squeeze.
Remove The Hook
Now you are calmly cradling the fish, it’s time to remove the hook. This can be dangerous, you really don’t want to harm the fish here. Any damage done to the fish’s mouth could be a fatal wound.
Remove the hook by rotating it out, never pull on it or you will hurt the fish. The hook will be circular so just follow the line to take it out.
When removing the hook the fish will obviously be fairly distressed. An old angling trick is turning the fish upside down, which sounds like it could hurt the fish but seems to immobilize them for a safe extraction.
Continue to cradle the fish the same way but upside down, this should enable you to remove the hooks safely without hurting the fish.
Use a Net!
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Many anglers don’t use a net, trusting their own fish holding skills and capture. Nets are often considered to be the best way to observe the fish safely, but many anglers don’t necessarily bother too much with this part and don’t see the point of this practice.
However, we would seriously recommend using a net. Not only does a net ensure the fish’s safety more than anything else, but believe us when we say it will help you catch fish more quickly and lose a lot less catches.
Consider this fishing net, it has a floating hoop as well as a rubber mesh that allows for you to catch fish safely, observe them safely, and also make your angling life much easier. This is especially recommended with children as they can see the fish for longer and more safely.
The classic ‘man with fish he just caught’ shot is one you can never avoid – whether you are on a dating or an angling forum. Whatever your opinion on these bragging snaps, these can often cause the fish to be out of the water for too long. Obviously, you don’t want to keep a fish out of water.
If you want to grab a snap, give up on vanity, and make sure this doesn’t prolong the fish being out of water. In reality, you can easily grab a snap of your catch without keeping the trout out of the water for more than 15 seconds. If you are taking up to a minute, then stop.
Your vanity and bragging rights are never worth more than another being’s wellbeing, grab the snap and respect the fish – don’t be a bottom feeder.
How Long Should A Trout Be Out Of Water?
Ignore every angling rule you may have heard about this. There are a lot of silly old rules like ‘a trout can survive for as long as you can hold your breath’. Any ichthyologist, biologist, or zoologist, will quickly tell you this is completely wrong.
It feels important to say that you should never leave the trout anywhere that isn’t your hands or the water. Once the trout is just left on the ground its chances of survival will certainly decrease.
In reality, a fish, especially the delicate trout, shouldn’t be out of water for more than 30 seconds maximum. If you want some visual way of telling this, as time management often goes out the window with the excitement of a catch, once the water on the trout dries up and it stops dripping this is when it is time to put it back in the water.
How To handle trout without harm
When releasing a trout, or any other fish, you need to also exercise caution and good practice.
The fish is most likely in shock after being hurled out of the water by an invisible force, only to be held by two massive hands. So returning it to water requires this fact in mind.
Carefully lower the fish into the water, keep a hold of it for a second or so as the fish won’t move immediately. Once it ‘wakes up’ the fish will start resisting and then it should release straight from your hands.
The point here is not to just drop the fish into water and leave it, it needs a little hand back into the water for it to remain safe and undamaged.
Handling a trout for even a second will undoubtedly cause some distress and risk to the trout’s life. But, so does pulling it out of the water with a string and removing a hook from its face.
While angling and fishing can be a little risky in terms of ethical catch and release, it is this act of appreciating the fish, and also respecting them, that encourages conservation for future generations.
Recognize that your actions will certainly influence others, especially if you are fishing with your children. In any practice or hobby we should always seek to respect our environment, and when we are dealing with sentient beings that are an important part of our ecosystem, we should show the same respect we would someone on the street.
That doesn’t mean hooking Jerry next door with your new rod, but treating the fish, namely the trout, with respect for its life. Even attempting ethical capture and release can still lead to death, especially where the ego comes into it with photos and the like.
In summary, cradle the underbelly of the fish if only to remove the hook, don’t let the trout be out of water for more than 30 seconds, and importantly use clean and steady hands. Simply appreciate the fish, but let it carry on with its life afterwards.