When angling for trout, whether it’s for stocked fish or their wild counterparts, you’ll be drawing on a precious resource that warrants careful preservation. Unless you plan to eat it, every trout you catch should be handled with care. This post presents five tips to help you improve trout survival when you practice catch and release.
Here are 5 tips for catch and release trout fishing:
5) Use a Net
The best argument for using a net is that the alternatives are terrible. You can’t literally “land” the trout—dragging a fish onto a sandy or grassy bank will damage it. You shouldn’t let the fish dangle from your line, nor should you excessively squeeze the fish to get it under control. When you can ease your trout into a landing net, you’ll have complete control and be able to keep the fish in the water while you carefully remove the hook.
4) Avoid Excessive Handling
Your landing net plays a major role in the next tip, which is to avoid handling the trout too much. Trout have a protective slime on their skin that, if touched with anything dry, will sluff off, leaving the fish exposed to disease. Keep the trout underwater as much as possible during the hook removal process, give it a moment to catch its breath, and with wet hands, snap a quick photo before releasing the fish.
3) Shorten the Fight
Playing a hooked trout takes time. You have to keep pressure on the fish, allow for violent headshakes, be ready for jumps, and guide the fish where you want it to go. If you rush the process, you risk losing the fish, but if you take too long, you could endanger its life. Don’t fight your trout to the point of exhaustion—it stresses them, sometimes making recovery impossible.
2) Don’t Fish When It’s Too Hot
The importance of keeping the fight short is even more important when the temperature begins to climb. Trout need clean, cold water to survive; that kind of water holds dissolved oxygen. When the water warms up, it can’t retain oxygen as well. Trout living in oxygen-depleted water become heavily stressed and often can’t survive being caught and released, so if the water temp is in the 70s, pick another species to go after.
1) Debarb your Hook
Trout have extremely delicate mouths, so you can mash down the barb of your hook when you fish for them. With other species, like bass, after you snap a barbed hook out of the fish’s jaw, you’d have a hard time finding any damage. With trout, you can very easily break off the fragile jaw plate—it’s one of the coolest looking parts of a trout’s distinctive head, but it’s also a functioning part of the jaw. If that portion of the jaw is damaged, the trout won’t be able to open and close its mouth properly. Whether you use a spinner, a spoon, a tiny crankbait, or a fly, take a pair of needle-nose pliers to your barbs so you can release fish intact.
Help Protect Our Trout
Many trout anglers will tell you—compared to other game fish, trout are a precious, limited resource. Every time you successfully release a fish, you’re honoring the animal and giving another angler a chance to enjoy the same thrill you experienced. Please keep these tips in mind so you can practice catch and release trout fishing in the most effective way possible.