Handling Fish for Release

Rob Blomquist

Formerly Tight Loops
I know that we all love to let our fish go to fight again (well at least the non-zombies), but I have become concerned about how fish are shown to be handled in photos.

Please support the body of the fish with wet hands if you have to, and if you are going to take a picture, keep the fish in your hands or in water. A fish does not want to be on the grass or gravel, even for a moment when caught.

Keep the fish out of water for as little time as possible.

When handling the fish, don't compress the internal organs or the gills. A fish that swims away, may only die from internal injuries a short time later.

Genetic pollution damages wild
stocks, bonk those Hatchery Zombies!


New Member
I agree with everythig you mentioned. Most of the fish I've been seeing pictured are out of the water way too long. Trout and salmon are sensitive fish and need to be handled very carefully. Keeping them in the water and minimizing handling is crutial.

Unless there is someone else there to take a picture, it's not worth the risk. With two people, one guy should have the camera ready, while the other is unhooking the fish in the water. Before it's released, all the guy with the fish has to do is lift it out of the water for 5 sec. max while a couple pictures are taken and the fish can be put back safely, and will have only been out of the water for a few seconds. If this can't be done, a picture should not be taken. Risking harm to a fish by putting it on the shore or handling it improperly, just so one can have a picture is selfish. :TSKTSK

Also, just because it swims away doesn't mean it's going to survive. Delayed mortality probably happens more often than when the fish immediatly turns belly up.


Whenever I catch and release (most of the time) I hardly bring the fish out of the water...just usually mid length. I use a pair of needlenose pliers or forceps, grab the hook, turn it hook point pointing to water, give a little jerk in an up and down fashion and the fish usually pops off cleanly. I also always use barbless hooks, I always mash down the barb right after tying. That is as long as I've hooked the fish in the mouth.

The best way to release is do not touch fish with hand at all.
If you give line a slack and fish is not deeply hooked it come off easily.
I think tailing fish has to be one of the worst things that you can do. I never realized this until recently. I have been commercial fishing in Alaska for the last few years and this year did a couple of night openings for kings in Washington. Anyway, back to my point. When I was fishing kings, I was "reminded" not to lift a fish by its tail because it will break its spine. If commercial fisherman are concerned with tailing fish that are already dead, I can only imagine how bad it can be for fish that are alive. I try my best not to lift a fish by its tail at all, but if I have too, I will lift the head and tail at the same time.

-tailing fish, think about it
-crump :THUMBSUP


Idaho Resident Craftsman/Artisan
Yep Crump you said it bro. It is one of those things we need to be so careful of. And yes I do end up lifting most of my fish by the tail as well as under the belly or wherever I can get a good balance. The whole tail grab thing has to be really just to balance the fish in your other hand. (if you are going to do it at all) I have to agree that keeping the fish in the water is best but hey some of us have to make a living and I happen to have to take pictures.


Idaho Resident Craftsman/Artisan
I have burned through at least 20 rolls of fish film in the last 5 months and yes you are right, it is tough to get a good safe clean shot without a partner. However, when I am by myself I have my tripod set up where I know I will be landing my next Hog. Depending upon the water this is at least 50ft down stream. If the fish doesn't take you down there, but it is still picture worthy, you can always safely walk the fish down to the spot. I have converted to keeping the fish in the water unless I have a partner. I have been lucky and captured some beautiful stills while the fish was still in the water. I have a packing tripod that I use for river fishing and I just stand it up right in the water and shoot away while the fish is in that "let's take a breather" stage just before release. I just let them chill out and catch their breath while I ask them to smile for the camera.



Be the guide...
Back to handling fish for release - I treat the small fish a bit different that the bigger fish.

With the little guys who I quickly landed and I know have plenty of energy left, I find that after I gently put them into the water after taking the hook out (if I ever took them out of the water to begin with), the little fish will often be in a state of shock or something and just sit there. Sometimes I'll splash some water at it or prod it with my rod tip to get it to snap out of it and take off.
What I've been doing now is lifting the fish a foot or 2 out of the water by the line, grabbing the hook using my pliers (or whatever) with the opposite and, popping out the hook, and just let the fish plop back in the water. In doing this, I've never had a fish not hit the water and shoot off immediately. Often so quick you have no idea where it went. Sometimes they shoot toward the shallow water, but they easily turn back around...
I'd expect to get dirtly looks doing this around some of you, but I honestly think it does not harm to the fish. Afterall, many of these fish have just leaped a foot or 2 out of the water smashing an insect on the surface. And it's nothing compared to being dropped from an helicopter or plane when trout are stocked in alpine lakes, or when the go over a spillway on a big dam.
Great Posting!

With small trout i get them near my feet, and try to slack the line as the other guy does. Works much of the time. When fishing for humpies, i brought them in close, pulled the line slack and used the rod as a dehooker giving a quick and gentle push.

It amazes me when i watch a fishing show with some hot shot celeb fishing host that picks up a fish with hand, halfway up its gills, hangs it vertical and talks about "catch and release". I won't name names but half of them are guilty of it.

Most important, wet hands as most say.

Old Man

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

After reading what you wrote it got me to thinking about those shows. I watched one one time and the guide?? was taking them off the hook and throwing them back into the water. He said that it wakes the fish up so it won't drown. Maybe the client will believe him but do any of you.



Idaho Resident Craftsman/Artisan
[font color="blue"]Yep that's about right! Thanks Chris![/font]

Tight Loops, dlw, ruthven78, and vic_sea, all of these posts have been helpful and informative. It is tough being a Fisherman/Photographer. It is a tricky game trying to take print quality photos without harming the fish. I am sure I have killed fish that should have lived had I not "needed" that perfect picture. I am still learning and I appreciate all of the helpful tips. One thing I learned not too long ago is not to pick the fish up by the tail. It is very easy to get into this habit when you are trying to tail a hog for a "hero shot". Ok maybe that sounds stupid but I have been guilty of it and I know I have seen scores of guys tail fish like that as well. I am not a fish Chiropractor and I am sure that some of the fish I have caught have needed it when I got done with them. Keep the helpful tips coming and lets leave the soap boxes at home. I think it will be good for us to keep in mind that we are all learning and I would like to shake the hand of anyone who has yet to misshandle a fish.