Catch and Release
By following few simple rules you can be certain that a released fish will live to be caught again. It is important to remember that a fish that appears unharmed when released may not survive if handled improperly.
Time is of the essence. Play, land, and release fish as rapidly as possible. A fish out of water for more than a few seconds may suffer gill and brain damage, and may die. Even a fish played gently for too long may be too exhausted to recover.
Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. A fish out of water is suffocating and in addition, is many times heavier. Larger fish can suffer physical damage merely to the weight their structure has to support. If a fish begins to flop and pound around on the rocks it may inflict heavy damage to itself. Even a few inches of water can serve as a buoyant cushion and will help to pad the fish from this type of damage.
Gentleness in handling is essential. Keep your fingers out of the gills. I you use dry hands take care not to remove slime or abrade the fish’s scale. Resist the tendency to squeeze the fish to gain control. Smaller fish are best handled by thumb and forefinger on the lower lip.
Nets of soft cotton are helpful tools in releasing a fish but caution must be given in that the net should be wetted prior to use. Even dry cotton can act as an abrasive on the fish’s scales. Care should be given to not entangle the gills or the hook while attempting to release. By keeping the net in the water this should aid in its use.
Unhooking: Remove the hook as rapidly as possible with pliers or forceps a long as the fish is not hooked too deeply. If it is deeply hooked, cut the leader and leave the hook in. The hook eventually dissolve. When unhooking, do not tear out the hook roughly. Be gentle and quick. Smaller fish have been known to die of shock from rough handling. A freely bleeding fish should be culled and kept for pan provide regulations allow it.
Reviving: Some fish after a long struggle may lose consciousness and float belly up. Always make a practice of holding the fish upright in the water and pointed upstream. Move the fish forward and backwards to force water over the gills. This is essentially artificial respiration and may take a few minutes on larger fish or in slow water. When the fish revives, begins to struggle, and shows signs it can swim normally, release it.
When temperatures are higher consider calling it a day. Trout do not survive well if released in warm waters. It is good practice to carry a small stream thermometer. When the water temperature nears 68 degrees Fahrenheit it would be more beneficial to the fish if the angler stopped fishing or at least waited for the cooler evening temperature. One decision could be to increase the tippet size, play the fish faster, and revive with extra care.
There can be a great joy in casting, presenting, hooking, landing, and then releasing a fish back into the wild. Some folks get hooked on it.