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Trout Catch and Release Tips; Keep Them Wet

Updated: Feb 6

Brook Trout In A Net

Fly fishing offers a unique connection with nature and the thrill of catching trout, but with this joy comes a responsibility to protect these beautiful game fish. Catch and release is a vital practice in trout fishing, ensuring the conservation of fish populations and their natural habitats. In this article, we will explore essential tips for safely and responsibly releasing trout when fly fishing.

Use the Right Equipment:

Choose barbless hooks to reduce harm to the fish and facilitate easy hook removal. When landing the trout, use a net with soft mesh or rubber nets. These nets are gentle on the fish's scales and protective slime, minimizing the risk of injury.

Keep the Fish in the Water:

Whenever possible, keep the trout submerged and keep the net in the water. Minimize the time the fish spends out of its natural environment to reduce stress and increase chance of survival. 

Handle the Fish with Care:

Wet your hands before touching the fish to avoid removing its protective slime layer. Dry hands can damage the trout's sensitive skin and immune system. Avoid squeezing a fish tightly and instead cradle the trout gently supporting its weight. When lifting the fish out of the water, hold it horizontally to minimize stress on its body. Do not lip it like a bass, the bone structure of the jaw is different and you will do damage to the trout.

Remove the Hook Efficiently:

Use forceps or hemostats to remove the hook from the fish's mouth gently. Be patient during this process, taking care not to harm the delicate gills. If possible, do this without removing it from the water. I grab the hook near the eye with my forceps and simply flip it upside down. This allows the water to handle the weight of the fish, not me. 

Revive the Fish:

If the trout appears exhausted, hold it in the water, facing the current, to allow water to flow over its gills. This helps the fish regain strength before release. Always hold the fish with it's head into the current and do not move it back and forth, gills only work in one direction. Large fish caught after a long struggle might take a while to revive. Land fish quickly as possible, and get it back into the water as quickly as possible, too.

Release the Fish Properly:

Once the trout is ready to swim away, gently release it into the water. Support the fish until it swims away on its own. Be patient; some fish may need a moment to fully recover. Big trout I've caught sometimes stay right next to you as they recover as you provide a break in the current. 

Environmental Considerations:

Pay attention to water temperature, environmental conditions,  and fishing reports. Trout are more vulnerable in warm water and low flows, so it's crucial to minimize stress during hot weather. Mortality rates soar in the summertime, even if fish are released unharmed. The stress to fish makes many anglers hang up trout fishing in the Summer months in Virginia. 

Practice Catch and Release Ethically:

Familiarize yourself with the regulations and guidelines for the fishery you're in. Be aware of bag limits and size restrictions to ensure you're conserving fish populations. If you are planning to catch and release a trout, but find that it is bleeding or injured, it's okay, it happens. Fly fishing has the lowest rate of gut and foul hooking fish, but it does occur. Consider taking the fish home if it is within the legal limit.

Avoid Overfishing:

If you catch enough fish for the day, consider stopping to conserve the population and avoid overfishing. Angling pressure is still stressful for fish, and can negatively effect the fishery and those fishing after you.

Return Wild Fish:

Whenever possible, return wild trout to their natural environment. These fish contribute to the overall health and genetic diversity of the population. Virginia has plenty of river and streams they stock, and many are put and take fisheries. If you want to keep fish, consider these locations and avoid fishing wild trout waters.

Lee Wulff's Principle:

Renowned angler Lee Wulff once said, "A game fish is too valuable to be caught only once." Keep this in mind as you release trout and strive to preserve their populations.

By adhering to these catch and release tips and handling trout with care, fly fishermen and anglers can play a crucial role in the conservation of these remarkable game fish.

Responsible catch and release practices are essential for maintaining healthy fish populations and ensuring that future generations of anglers can continue to experience the joy of trout fishing in their natural habitats. Let's protect our beloved trout and the environments they call home for generations to come.


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