Well here we are. Fall is upon us, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts alike are relieved for the cool weather and ready to break out the fleeces. With this change of season, we also see our friends in our local streams become more active and effervescent as the water cools down. I am of course talking about our friends the trout.
Trout by nature are cold water fish. The doldrums of summers that are getting hotter can really put them down in a funk as the water temperatures rise. Your seasoned angler knows to hold off on pursuing trout in the middle of summer, but many others may not know what a danger it is for a trout to put it under stress when the water is 60+ degrees. This results in a lot of accidental trout casualties during summer months. As well-intentioned catch and release anglers are, there efforts are futile if a fish is not released in a timely manner.
Enough about summer, we are talking about how excited we are for fall and water temperatures cooling off! That means all the trout we catch and release will swim away happy and healthy right?......Well not really, even in desirable temperatures trout need to be caught, handled, and released correctly to ensure its survival after a battle, but don’t let this get you down. Let’s go over some things you can do this fall to ensure your prized fish swims away to enjoy life in its favorite hole.
It is good practice to press down those big old barbs on your hooks. A barb in a trout’s lip can give you a better chance of netting it but getting that barb out of that lip can do a lot of damage to a trout’s soft mouth. It goes without saying that they use their mouth to eat and grow larger so they would prefer them with a small puncture rather than a mangled wound. This also makes unhooking them easier ensuring a speedy release.
Fish of all shapes and sizes have a protective mucus they produce on their skin. This also protects them from unwanted parasites and skin ailments. A cotton or nylon net can remove that mucus from a trout when they are in it. This can cause a lot of problems for trout in just a few days, creating soars or fin rot. Best practice is to use a silicon or soft rubber net. This will not wipe away that mucus coat and keep that trout looking beautiful, and that’s half the reason we fish for them. Trout are beautiful fish.
Remember that we aren’t trying to damage that mucus coat so if you touch a trout with dry hands, you will also create the same problem. Before you handle your fish, remember to get your hands wet first, this will create a non-abrasive surface like the silicon in your net.
Trout are oxygen sensitive fish that need a lot of it to survive. Imagine you just ran a marathon and before you even get a chance to sit down and catch your breath, than a disgruntled racer throws you in a pool and holds your head underwater… you see where I am going with this? It would be tough to get the oxygen you need to recover. It is best to keep that fish as wet as possible and its head in the water as much as possible when removing the hook. Keep the net in the water and try to work on the fish quickly. Having that barb pressed down will aid in that.
This one, believe it or not has resulted in the deaths of a lot of trophy fish. I can not tell you how many people I’ve seen when walking next to the river holding a big old chunker of a trout out of the water for more than 10 seconds just to get the perfect photo and then putting it back in the net just to pick it up again to get another photo. Now I completely understand wanting to have a great memory captured. I am 100% for taking pictures of fish and being able to share that memory with others. So there are some precautions you can take to ensure you document the event and give that trout a fighting chance after release.
For one, you can always get a picture of your lunker submersed in the net. That way your fish can still breath and you can see all its beautiful colors in the shimmer of the water. If that is not impressive enough and you need that shot of you holding the fish so you can be in the photo so everyone knows you battled that beast, you can do so. Simply eliminate your time with the fish and make sure you crouch down, that way you can get the fish back to the water quicker and you don’t have a chance of dropping it on a rock in shallow water.
Try to only have the fish out of the water for 5 seconds maximum. It is important to note that if the water is more than 60 degrees, you should not take the fish out of the water at all. Just get that net shot and if anyone doesn’t believe you caught it… relish in the fact you are preserving trout for future anglers.
Growing up fishing for blue gill in the local ponds it was always so easy to just plop the fish back in the water and watch them swim away. For a lot of people, that’s how it’s done, that’s all they have ever seen when releasing a fish. When it comes to releasing trout, or any fish for that matter, Hold the fish gently trying not to squeeze and put it in the water. Make sure your hand is loose enough so if that fish regains its luster, it can swim off with one tail burst.
It is important to release a trout head facing upstream, that is how they normally hold position in the water and if they are disoriented after a fight, they have a chance of getting washed into rapids and getting pummeled.
Be sure to hold the fish still and not move it back and forth.
It is common believe that that helps water circulate through their gills, but in reality, it is making it harder for them to fluctuate their gill muscles. Once they are ready to go, they will let you know. Trust me the last thing they want is to stick around.
I hope that this helped every angler who is concerned about preserving the fishery feel more confident about how to take care of the fish we love so much. It is important to remember that accidents do happen. It has happened to all of us in the field, the fish swallowed the hook deep, or they are just not kicking back to life after all your efforts. Just try your best and enjoy this sport and this fish that has brought us all so much joy.
Now get out there and enjoy the season.