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October 26, 2001

Release Trick for Deepwater Fish

Try this novel method of returning bloated fish to depth with minimum additional trauma.

It's hard to release bottom fish that suffer from inflated air bladders. The swollen fish can barely "paddle" on the surface of the water. Many fishermen use a sharp tool to puncture the air bladder, but that method has its problems.
Colin Attwood, visiting our NMFS lab as part of a U.S./South African scientific program, showed me a novel method of returning bloated fish to depth with minimum additional trauma. The method is commonly used by recreational fishermen in South Africa and may be better than deflating air bladders by puncturing the fish.
Prepare your release line ahead of time. Firmly attach a 7- or 8-ounce weight to the eye of a barbless, stainless-steel hook with a short line. To the bend of the hook, tie a line (from another rod and reel or hand line) long enough to lower the fish from the boat to the bottom.
To return a fish to the bottom, run the barbless hook point through the fish's upper lip, from top to bottom, and quickly let the weight carry the fish down. When the fish is at depth, jerk sharply on the line to pull the hook and weight free of the fish.
The advantages of this method over puncturing the fish's air bladder and releasing it on the surface include:
* The fish is rapidly recompressed, immediately reversing the gas expansion or "bends" effect.
* Because of the attached weight, the tired fish does not have to expend extra energy to swim to the bottom.
* The speed of the descent reduces the time of exposure to midwater predators.
* The small hole through the upper lip is much less traumatic than a puncture wound to the body cavity and air bladder and carries considerably less risk of infection.
* This method requires less knowledge of fish anatomy.
-Miami, Florida