A lesson learned

I fished the Spokane this morning (just below the Sullivan Bridge). Being the aspiring Fly Fisherman that I am, each trip to the river seems to hold a new lesson. Today's trip seems to have raised some questions about catch and release.

After about an hour of fishing (and one lost hook-up) I was working my way down river and stopped to tie my shoe. It was at this exact moment that I noticed a 12 inch Bow rising just off shore. I quickly began casting a size 20 midge to the fish.

First cast was short and drifted inside of the fish. It got a rise out of her, but she didn't take. The second cast was right on. I watched in slow motion as the fly floated downstream and then... SLURP! (For some reason I'm always surprised when a fish takes the fly :EEK ) The fish was not huge, but she's definitely been eating well. After a few minutes struggle I had her in hand. I freed her from the fly I quicly returned her to the water. She immediately dove for a rock outcrop and sat on the bottom.

Thinking the fish was going to die, and upset with myself for killing such a beautiful fish I put my rod away and headed down stream. On my way back to the car I stopped by to see if the fish was still there. To my surprise she wasn't dead. It hovered under the rock and then moved into open water when it saw me.

So my question is, Is it better to cradle the fish and slowly revive it. Or should you quickly return them to the water. I've heard people suggest both methods and this fish definitely seemed ready to go (which is why I didn't try to revive it). I would definitely appreciate any advice on proper C&R technique. I'm just glad that this lesson came without the cost of killing a fish (hopefully).


Active Member
I have also thought I accidently killed a couple fish. Like you try to revive them like your suppost too, and then they just go sit on the bottom for I while. I think they are just trying to catch their breath after all the excitement they were just put though. I'm no biologist, so I could be wrong? They just chill for a while before swimming away. :DUNNO YT

Brad Niemeyer

Old School Member
Dead fish tend to float belly up struggling and flopping...if the fish heads for the bottom that's a good sign....

Handle the fish as little as possible...If they are in shock, face them upstream and let the current flow over their gills for a few moments before you pull the hook...

Touching the fish should be kept to a minimum...

-Long time fly fisherman and marine biology student



Active Member
Thanks Piscean. I have been fly fishing for a long time, and I still enjoying learning more about the Sport. :THUMBSUP YT
I will tell you a story of a recent catch and release experience. Please don't make fun of me:

I hike up into the Enchantment Lakes wilderness area to a lake that I found while climbing one of the lesser known peaks in the area. We were just stopping to take a break when I noticed that there were nice sized trout rising lazily just a few feet off shore.

As horrible of a descent as it was to hike from the lake, I went back the following week and caught some fish.

The next morning I had caught a fish and accidentallty hooked it a little too deep. Probably because of my delay of setting the hook after his strike. Needless to say the fish was hurting pretty bad. Also, when I removed the hook it struggled too much and I dropped it into the water. It just kicked here and there belly up. It finally sank to the bottom but was still belly up. I couldn't stand the thought of leaving a perfectly good fish dead in the water so I tried to snag it with my fly and bring it to shore for breakfast.

Well, I snagged it too hard and the tippet broke off and the fish was now laying on the bottom with a hook stuck in it's belly, belly up. I was feeling really bad now so I reeled in all of my line and stepped into the water and fished it to shore with the tip of my rod. I finally got it to shore and it was kind of still alive.

I dislodged the hook and spent the next 20 minutes trying to recessitate it and finally got it to where it was back at the top kicking but still belly up. I decided to pack up my gear and wait to see what happens but I kept the pot out just in case. When I walked back to shore it was just starting to rotate back to belly down but I could tell it was still struggling. I knew that it was getting better though.

By the time I was packed up the fish was finally swimming around and totally alive. I had done it! I could now leave knowing that the fish was okay. Why did I waste my time trying to do this? I just couldn't stend seeing a good fish go to waste even though I knew that the copepod and amphipod populations would florish from the dead matter.

My point is, fish are hearty. Just give them time and some TLC and they will survive. Don't just throw them back though.

My 1 cent.


Old Man

Just an Old Man
What do I know---I'm just an old man

Good story. I try to do just that very thing each time,but right now I'm having a little trouble with the catching part. No matter what I put on the other end it desn't seem to work. Maybe I need everybody to say a chant for me.



Active Member
absolutely great story. I think a lot of C&R fishermen have experienced this, as I have, but are afraid to admit it. I had a similar thing happen at Grimes with a Big Lahotan Cutt. These fish are super fragile. He put up a good fight and after I tried to release him, he went to the bottom belly up. I tried to barely touch him, using my net as a barrier. I felt bad, he was in like 6 feet of water. I used my pontoon boat oar and tried to prod him along. I gave up fishing for a while and went to the bank to eat some lunch. I came back like 1/2 hour later and He had rited himself and was just chillin. I prodded him again and he darted off.
Iv'e been really wanting to go to the Enchantments for a while. I've been reading posts on various hiking websites. I know the permit process is really hard, but I'm planning on trying to go next year. I would also like to climb dragontail peak and little Annapurna. I've also heard mixed reports on the fishing, but I will for sure bring the rod along. All my fishing buddies have no desire to hike, to much fishing and golf(I shot a 113 today, I blew up big time). Any info you could share would be awesome. :THUMBSUP YT
The unusually hot weater stresses trout more than usual. On Vancouver Island, the Cowichan river fishers don't fish during August and early September. Sometimes it takes a little more self-control to insure the survival of the fish. I usually look for deeper cooler water this time of year.

For when sleeping I dream of big fish and strong fights.



New Member
I had a cutthroat do this the other day. It just sat on the bottom inches away from my boots. After about 5 or so minutes it took off. :DUNNO. I probably played the fish for a minute at the most (12" cutt & 6wt rod), so I don't think I stressed it.
I've seen some pretty poor C&R practices by fly fishermen though. A few weeks ago I observed an experienced fisherman who was landing SRC's from a boat and insisted on photographing everything he caught. He would bring the fish out of the water take the fly out wait for the camera guy and plop the fish back in the water. All the fish he landed were out of the water for 20+ seconds and I saw two of them floating belly up. :MAD.
I always press my fish hard and try to unhook em while their still lively and thrashing(sometimes difficult). Unless the hook is hard to get out I don't touch the fish (salmon & steelhead are a differnt story). The only fish I could say I've possibly killed would be those that are bleeding. Do bleeding fish survive much? Seems Like every year I release a few that are bleeding from the mouth or gills, which makes me feel a little guilty.

It's nice to see that people here are concerned about releasing fish alive. I'm always shocked at the number of guys who mishandle fish or worse, don't care.

Good point on fishing in hot weather. Oxygen content of the water is much lower and the stress of the fight takes its toll much quicker.

Some additional things to consider, mostly from the Catch & Release organization, are:

Pinch the barbs down on your hooks or use barbless hooks whenever possible. Barbless hooks will extract more easily and with less damage than those with barbs.

Land the fish as quickly as possible. Playing a fish to exhaustion decreases its chance for survival.

Handle the fish as little as possible.

Whenever possible, remove the hook while the fish is still in the water. If you must boat or beach the fish, immobilize it immedieately, but remember, squeezing too hard may crush internal organs.

Avoid contact with gill areas and don't stick your fingers in its eyes.

A pair of surgical hemostats (or needle-nose pliers) will help eliminate problems of extracting the hook and speed up the removal process.

To immobilize bass, crappie, and other sunfish, use the lip-hold technique: insert your thumb inside the lower jaw of the fish and slide your forefinger against the outside of the lower lip.

To immobilize pike or muskie, reach across the head with your thumb, pressing against one gill cover and put your fingers against the other gill cover. Do not grip the fish by the eye sockets.

If you "tail" a salmon or steelhead, be sure you know what you're doing as you can actually cause more harm to the fish if you do it incorrectly.

To release a deeply hooked fish, clip the line as close to the fish's mouth as possible. Research on deeply hooked trout and other species shows that if the leader is clipped and the hook left undistubed, nearly six times as many of those fish survive. Please consider this when releasing undersized fish.

To revive a fish, hold it upright and move it back and forth (gently) so that the water is forced over the gill filaments. If in a river, point its head upstream so the water flows through its gills. This process, like artificial respiration, may take a while. When revived, it will swim away from your hands.

just remember, throw 'em back

at lake ki last year i caught about a 13 inch bow. it had firm flesh and looked healthy so i decided to keep it for the pan, so i knocked it out with my pliers after i removed the hook. after keeping a fish i like put them in a plastic bag and then in a cooler, i think it helps the flavor. anyways i laid the fish down on the boat seat while i fished around for my plastic bags. as i turned my back the "knocked out" fish flopped right back in the lake! i was shocked. i could have sworn i gave it a good thumping. after a few second of frantic searching, i saw him flopping around on the surface, belly up. i started to motor after him. each time i got close enough the fish would make a half hearted attempt to escape and it would get out of reach. after about 4 or 5 times, the fish went under and never resurfaced. i figured he may of got his wits sbout him and maybe he took off. so i started up the electric trolling motor and began to head out for some more fishing. as soon as i turned it on i heard this awful aound and i looked into the water just in time to see an explosion of scales. i had hit the fish!. this time he was knocked out for sure and i got him in the boat. tasted great!
If you must touch or handle a fish with your hands, make sure your hands are wet. Dry hands will rub the protective slime off of fish; wet hands, not so much. I am sure a biologist type could explain it better. But, my understanding is that a fish's slime coating (highly technical term) acts as a sort of exterior immune system, helping the fish avoid or fight off parasites, viruses, and other harmful things.

I don't know if it is true or not, but it seems to me that if I hold a trout belly up (in the net) while I remove the hook, there is a lot less struggling and flopping. A tip you might want to try if you have a particularly floppy fish.

Great to hear from so many C&R fishers, sometimes I feel like I am the only one.
This is slightly off subject, but I can't help from sharing.

I used to keep a lot of different tropical saltwater fish several years ago. One of my favorites was a triggerfish that was very agressive, but they have about as much "personalty" that a fish can have (I even tought him a few "tricks". I had been servicing the tank and someone called and needed me to run them something, so off I went with the lid off the tank. I was gone about 15 min. and when I came back - no triggerfish. This tank was right next to my fly tying desk, so I searched it over and couldn't find him. I then looked behind the desk and saw him. Bone dry and covered in feathers. I thought he was dead for sure. I picked him up and no movement at all. For some reason I went to put him back in the tank. As soon as he touched water, he went bezerk. Flopping around the surface in turbo mode, obviously disoriented and out of control. This flurry of activity did manage to rid him of all the feathers. After a few seconds of this, he came too, dove to the bottom and sulked under a rock. He looked pretty blochy, but there wasn't much I could do. I put the lid back on turned all the lights off in the room and left him. The next day I went in the room and he was there at the front of the glass, begging for food as always.

I guess the point is, there is always hope.