Over the years I've used more than a half dozen methods in an effort to release bottom fish unharmed. But venting and squeezing and stabbing all seem way too invasive! I mean, I wouldn't feel better after someone did those things to me.
It always seemed that there should be a better, gentler, and more reliable way! Thanks to West Marine's annual Green Product competition, now there is.
In 2011, the winner of the top prize of $10,000 for the best new product that makes a significant difference to the ocean environment and creates a sustainable future for our planet came from a retired Alaskan charter-fishing captain named Ace Calloway. It's a fish release tool that I have personally used (ironically in Alaska while fishing for slow-growing yellow-eye rockfish) used and found to work perfectly every time!
Calloway calls his innovative invention the Black Tip Catch & Release Recompression Tool. He designed it to reverse the effects of barotrauma on deep-water fish - the over-distension of the swim bladder and bulging eyes - as well as the fish's inability to swim back to the bottom with the trapped gases in its body.
The Black Tip Catch & Release Recompression Tool works on any salt or fresh water fish species and requires only a stout rod and reel, yo-yo or downrigger dedicated to the purpose. Simply add five pounds of lead weight to the end of the release-tool tube, clamp the pincers onto the fish's jaw and let out line until the fish and release tool reach the bottom. When the lead hits the bottom, it automatically opens the pincers allowing the fish to swim free. And of course, back at depth, the swim bladder and eyes shrink back to normal size under the ambient pressure.
One of Sport Fishing's scientific contributors, Stanford University marine biologist Dr. Randy Kochevar says, "The Black Tip Catch & Release Recompression Tool addresses a real problem, in a way that is simple, effective and affordable. Using this innovative tool, any fisherman can make sure that a fish returned to the wild has the best possible chance of survival."
The Black Tip Recompression and Release Tool retails for $49.95 at West Marine. Visit www.westmarine.com or your local West Marine outlet.