Catch and Release Saltwater Fishing - Improved fishing techniques for best results

Why in the world would we even consider writing about the practice of catch and release in a saltwater fishery?  With the price of a fishing trip being like it is, why in the world would any sane person want to catch and release a perfectly good eating fish?  With the reported mortality rate of released reef fish being high, why would we even tackle this issue?  Some people believe that If we keep our mouths shut nobody will know that catch and release is being practiced by everyone who fishes or has fished in the saltwater fishery.  The problem with catch and release in a saltwater fishery is that most people fish too deep and use the wrong method to catch their fish.  The reality is, it is important to learn the best available methods when practicing catch and release.  Learning how to do it correctly is imperative to the survival of saltwater fishing as a recreational sport.

Everyone who has fished in the saltwater or enjoys deep sea fishing or inshore fishing, has at some time or another, has or will have to release fish.  As U.S. populations increase each year, so has the number of people wanting to participate in recreational angling.  With all of the private recreational fishermen there are along the coastal Gulf of Mexico, combined with the number of active charter boats and guide boats available, there is no doubt that catch and release will increasingly become a preferred method for saltwater fishing enthusiasts.  In order to have sustainable saltwater fisheries and fish stocks in the future, all recreational angleres will have to do their part to take care of our saltwater resources.  Saltwater anglers, especially need to pay attention to and learn how to handle caught fish so they will survive after being released.  They need to learn how to use different fishing techniques in order to target and catch fish that will survive being released.

Why is using proper catch and release techniques important to saltwater fishermen?  One reason is because some days the bite is red hot and an angler might find himself limiting out quickly, but wants to continue fishing.  Most people look at it this way.  They have invested “X” number of dollars in the day’s fishing trip, they don’t want to waste it and go in early.  For a charter boat, it is important to be able to entertain their clients for a specific number of hours in order to satisfy their customer.  An example is the Red Snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.  With the fish stock rebuilding like it has in recent years, and the bag limits at two per person, it is common for a fisherman to limit out in as little as one or two drops of the line on the first reef they fish.  The Red Snapper fish stock off of Alabama because of the artificial reef system, has made it possible to see them swimming on the surface or just below the surface.  With a little chumming, those fish will come to the surface and feed.  Now that makes for an exciting fishing event.  Because of the abundance of Red Snappers in the northern gulf and the ability to limit out quickly; that means the captain will have to figure out an alternative species to target in order to give you value for your money that you spent on the charter.

Changing tactics - getting creative

Charter fishing guides and captains really have to get creative after a bag limit is caught.  In order to entertain our guests, we believe in keeping the best and releasing the rest.  That means, instead of trying to get a limit of fish on the first drop, we try to catch quality fish by fishing high in the water column in order to reduce the stress put on the fish.  This technique is called “shallow dropping.”  After shallow dropping for a little while, we often fish with a helium balloon with a bait underneath trying to catch larger pelagic fish like King Mackerel, Tuna and Barracuda.  We also troll around the reefs trying to catch different species for the customer to experience.  Some people use kites and other methods to entertain their guests.  We just try and create value and keep our clients entertained.  We also incorporate an eco tourism portion on our charter trips.  It is not uncommon to see dolphins, sea turtles and marine birds while we are fishing.

Tips on improving saltwater catch and release fishing techniques

We want to give you some basic information on how to catch and release saltwater fish.

  • Always use a circle hook.  Saltwater reef fishing requires it by the National Marine Fisheries law.

  • Never use a gaf to land a fish you plan on releasing.  Don’t stick a gaf in the mouth of the fish to lift out of the water.   Use a Boga Grip to land fish if you can.

  • Never fish on the bottom if the water depth is greater than 66 feet.  We don’t want the fish to suffer from barotrauma.

  • Never vent a reef fish if you don’t know what you are doing.  Improper use of a venting tool causes more harm to internal organs of the fish. If your fish floats after released, use the best fish venting tool to minimize harm to the fish.   Current federal law requires reef fishermen to have a venting tool on board but does not require the use of the tool.  Use your best judgement and try and save the fish.

  • Use a fish descender like the Shelton Fish Descender or the Getr Down Descender to take fish back down to the atmosphere they came from to reduce the effects of barotrauma.

  • Reel the fish in with steady pressure and try and make the fight last as short as you can.

  • Steady reeling reduces the stress put on the fish.  This, combined with shallow water fishing, keeps lactic acid from building up in the fish, which in turn, makes the survivability of the released fish greater.

  • Using a dehooker is the best way to avoid hand contact with the fish.  If you do have to touch the fish, always keep your hands moist with seawater or use a wet rag when handling fish.  Dry hands touching a fish can remove the slime that protects the fish from harmful bacteria.

  • Always try and use a rubber fish net that is wet when pulling larger fish out of the water.

  • Minimize the time the fish is out of water.  Try and get the fish back in the water quickly so he will survive.

  • Don’t let the fish flop around on the deck with a dry surface any longer than you have too.

  • Try and avoid putting your fingers up into the gills to hold the fish up.  This can damage the fish and keep him from being able to process oxygen in the water.

  • Always release the fish with their heads toward the water.  You want them to enter the water where they can make a quick descent to where they came from.