A few tips for catch-and-release fishermen
Written by Niagara Gazette   
Monday, 29 May 2006 16:31

Over the past few years, many fishermen have embraced catch and release as the way to not only enjoy a day’s fishing, but also to assure there will be fish left for the future.

There is more to catch and release than taking a hook out of the mouth of a fish to allow it to swim away to fight another day. Many of us have gone to using barb-less hooks and though we lose a few more fish, less harm is done to the animal.

Using a barb-less hook means the fisherman must keep a tight line on the fish, because letting up on the tension usually means the fish slips off the hook and is gone.

Bass are notorious for throwing a hook when they jump clear of water and twist in the air. Most of us are startled and forget to keep a tight line and this is just what the fish needs to escape.

To make a barb-less hook, simply use a pair of pliers to flatten the barb against the shank of the hook, or grind it off with a hand-held grinder. Usually a single hook is used when using bait, such as worms, crabs, minnows or leeches along with most plastic worm imitations or tube jigs. Lures with treble hooks are another matter.

I have always felt treble hooks are not needed to catch a fish. Once a single hook is imbedded in the jaw of a fish, that should be enough. On lures in my tackle box that have trebles on them, you will find the barbed ends have been nipped off.

I keep the main body of the treble attached to the lure so the balance is not disturbed. I was told to do this by Norm Olson, the fellow who runs Bill Lewis, manufacturer of Rat-L-Trap lures. The same principle could apply to any lure with trebles attached.

I keep one hook of the treble at the end of the lure undisturbed and that’s the one that hooks the fish. I don’t know of any fisherman who hasn’t had a terrible time taking treble hooks out of the mouth of a fish. It’s nearly impossible to do it without harming the fish and in the case of an undersized walleye it could mean the fish goes to waste.

Many of the lures we use to catch the larger species of fish have trebles and many fishermen have taken the trebles off and replaced them with single hooks. Examples of lures suited with single hooks and made to attract northern pike and muskies would be the red and white Daredevil and Johnson’s spoons that have worked just fine for many years.

If you have just begun the practice of catch and release, the handiest tool you can have in the boat or on your belt is a pair of long-nosed pliers. Bring the fish alongside the boat or as close to you as you can if fishing from shore and reach down with the pliers and grasp the shank of the hook with a quick twist of the wrist. The hook will come loose and the fish should swim away. If the fish simply lies there, exhausted, grasp it by the tail and swish it gently back and forth in the water to force water through its gills.

Don’t take the fish out of water and, unless you are planning to keep and eat the fish, keep it out of the net. A net will remove the slime that is a protective coating on the sides of a fish and if disturbed could lead to infections. The larger fish generally need careful handling and some help getting water flowing past their gills.

Don’t hold a fish up by grabbing its lower jaw and holding it out lengthwise for a photograph. This damages the muscles of the lower jaw and dooms the fish most times. If you must have a photo hold the fish with two hands supporting the belly, quickly take the picture and put the fish back into the water. The best way is to forcibly push the fish head-first into the water. This will force water to flow past the gill helping the fish to take in oxygen from the water.

Another reason for the popularity of catch and release is the fact most fish we catch are not fit to eat. Take a glance at the warnings on eating fish in the regulations guide and you will see there are eight pages listing which fish can be eaten within limits and those not edible.

Just about every stream, lake or body of water in the state is listed as polluted and you are advised to eat not more than one fish meal of most fish from these bodies of water a month. The warnings include walleye taken from Lake Erie, salmon from Lake Ontario and trout from many of the most popular streams in the state. The warnings are very specific on pregnant women and young children not to eat any fish taken from any body of water in the state.

The pollutants are mostly chemicals that have been dumped into streams over the years and will be affecting our water for many years to come. Have you noticed the chemical industry no longer uses the slogan “Better Living Through Chemistry?” Now you know why.

n The double-crested cormorant is now on the hit list of many northern states along with southern states that have no use for the destructive birds at all. Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin are joining Vermont, Minnesota and other states in attempting to curtail the explosive growth of the bird.

They have been blamed for denuding islands in Lake Champlain, Ohio and many other states with their droppings and nesting sites. In the southern states, they snatch fish from fish-farm impoundments costing fish farmers millions of dollars in loses.

Most states employ marksmen who use air rifles or .22-caliber long guns to kill the birds. Some states destroy the nests, or when a nest is found, oil the eggs to prevent hatching. In the Great Lakes, double-crested cormorant nests increased from 89 nests in 1972 to more than 120,000 today.

No one has come up with any good things to say about the bird and many fishermen wish for an open season on shooting them. Many anti-hunting and animal-rights groups object to drastic measures to control a pest that has no redeeming value whatsoever. When one bird species, such as the double-crested cormorant, renders an island uninhabitable for humans, then it’s time for it to go

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