More and more anglers are realizing that in order to have good fishing tomorrow, we cannot kill all the fish we catch today. In Maine, this particularly applies to coldwater game fish and black bass. Catch-and-release is a practical approach to fishing, in more ways than one. Even if you could keep all the trout and salmon you wanted, you would soon tire of eating them. Even the finest foods lose their luster when they are served up in endless profusion. Better to keep a limited number for the pan and release the remainder to fight again another day. Practically speaking, a competent angler can catch dozens of fish in a single day. What could anyone possibly do with all those fish, except keep a few for the pan, savor the moment, and release the rest?
Catch-and-release requires special care on your part, in order to be effective. You simply cannot play a fish until it is belly-up, then tear the hook out, throw it back in the water, and expect it to survive. You need to play a fish as quickly as possible, within the limitations of your tackle. If you can easily remove the hook without taking the fish from the water, so much the better. A pair of forceps is an indispensable aid in hook removal. If the fish is deeply hooked, you must cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Acids in the fish’s system will soon dissolve a standard wire hook, but gold-plated or stainless steel hooks will not dissolve, so stay away from them.
If your fish is sluggish, you may have to hold it in the water and slowly move it forward and backward, forcing oxygen-bearing water through its gills. This may require some time, but it does work.
Fish taken from deep water, such as lake trout, will often have an expanded air bladder. Using your thumb, press along the fish’s stomach, beginning near the vent and sliding it forward a few times. This will remove the excess air.
Finally, barbless hooks may be cheaper than you imagined. Any hook can be rendered barbless by filing the barb, or bending it down with needle-nose pliers.