First and foremost, always, I mean always handle a fish with wet hands, especially if it is a freshwater trout. The protective layer of slime on a fish keeps them healthy and allows the fish to glide through the water easily. Next you have to know what species you have caught. Some are toothy and will rip a finger to shreds if you aren’t careful. Just a word of caution, redfish have a NASTY set of teeth on the top jaw and will shred a thumb, I have the scars to show ya. Having a good quality net or lip gripper like a Boga grip is a big help. Use these lip grippers carefully and try not to hang a big fish from it if you can. Grabbing the bottom lip and then supporting the belly of the fish will help the fish from receiving injuries to internal organs and if the fish is big enough it can sometimes lead to broken jaws.
It is also important to keep a fish’s spine as straight as possible, towards the tail the spine is weaker and the last thing we want to do is cripple a fish before we release it.
Next, remove the hook as cleanly and quickly as possible. If a redfish is hooked really deep and there will be more damage done to the fish removing the hook, cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Most hoots are tin plated and will rust out in a few days. Keep the fish in the water as much a possible, think of this as someone holding you underwater, fish can’t breathe out of the water and we don’t want to put any more stress on the fish than we need to. Get your photographer ready and when they are ready lift the fish out of the water, take a couple photos and return the fish to the water. Let the fish breathe a little before any more pictures.
The next thing that drives me crazy is when I see someone with their hands shoved up under a gill plate holding a fish up. This can be done correctly and is a good way to control a fish, but unless you have been taught how to do this correctly keep your hands out of the gills. Again, think of it like this, how would you like someone to shove their hands down your throat and grab a handful of your lungs for a picture? Another word of caution, some fish have razor sharp gill plates and this method of grabbing a fish can lead to a trip to the ER for stitches and battle scars you don’t want or need. Spines are another cause for caution. Most fish have some sort of spiny fin on top to help protect them and if you aren’t careful you can get stabbed and this can be unpleasant as well.
How NOT to do it... Although this person may be doing it right, just avoid it if you can...
This shows good support of the fish...
As for some of our local fish, one small fish found around here, usually in a cast net while catching bait is the Leatherjacket. This little sucker has a nasty spine that is located near the anal fin and will put a hurtin on you. Redfish have a spiny dorsal fin that is easy to avoid, Bluefish have a spiny dorsal fin and a mouth full of nasty teeth and of course even the smallest sharks around here have a mouth full of teeth that can cause a bad day. Here is what a leatherjacket looks like…
Now, once you are ready to photograph your catch this is what I usually do. I take one photo of the fish held across myself so you can get an idea on the size, we all like big fish. Then I’ll Hold the fish by the tail, supporting the belly and point the fish slightly at the camera, this will also make your fish look a little bigger. A shot of a beautiful lit up redfish tail with my reel is also a favorite of mine.
If I am fishing solo I will wet the deck of the boat down and lay the fish down next to my rod for photographs, again a wet deck helps protect the slime on the fish, photograph the fish quickly and release it as quickly as possible.
When you are ready to release your fish, gently place it back in the water and hold the tail while supporting the belly, and gently wave the fish back and forth until the fish is strong enough to swim off on its own. I usually hold the fish until they really kick off hard so I know they are ok. If you are out by the jetties catching the BIG redfish, it is very important to really support these big fish properly and depending on how deep they were they may need to be vented. Venting is the process of using a hollow needle to puncture the skin of the fish to release the gas built up so the fish can swim back down. This can seriously injure a fish if not done correctly but can cause a fish to die so if you are going to chase the bigguns, make sure you have the proper tools and knowledge to help these fish out.
So remember, handle fish carefully, for your the sake of healthy fish, enjoy your catch and let ‘em swim to fight another day.