Catch and release is a terrific way to enjoy fishing without reducing local fish populations. There are, however, right and wrong ways to go about catch and release fishing. Get it wrong and the fish can die despite returning it to the water. Here are some tips on the correct and safest ways to enjoy this relaxing outdoor activity.

Keep Fish Wet

Fish are slimy, but many anglers aren’t aware that they’re slimy for a reason. The coating on fish helps them glide through the water more easily and protects them from diseases along the way. Anglers who accidentally remove this coating from the fish leave them vulnerable to illness.

To avoid this problem always handle fish with wet hands or while wearing rubber gloves. Never use a towel on a fish or dry them off. Drying fish does make them easier to hang onto, but it does so at considerable risk to the fish.

Ensure Alertness

Fighting against an angler and then being plucked from the water is quite stressful and shocking to fish. When putting them back in the water, it’s important to make sure they are alert and ready to go. Always return fish to the water headfirst, as doing so forces water into their gills and helps provide them with oxygen. Keep a hold of the fish, slowly moving it back and forth in the water until it is alert.

If at all possible, it’s best to keep the fish in the water while retrieving the hook and otherwise handling it.

The Right Hooks

For the safety of the fish, it’s best to use circle hooks for catch and release fishing. These hooks cause less damage to the fish and likely pass safely through any fish who swallows one accidentally. If a circle hook isn’t available, use a barbless hook or use a pair of pliers to pinch the barb close to the hook and prevent it from cutting into the fish.

Retrieve the hook from any caught fish only if it is safe for the fish to do so. If the fish has swallowed the hook, it’s best to cut the line and release the fish with the hook still inside. Eventually, the fish will pass the hook or it will rust away, which is much safer for the fish than pulling a hook out of its throat or stomach.