Fish CPR

Learn how to practice proper catch and release.

Tarpon after being caught
Consider leaving your catch in the water boatside. Justin Hodge

Have you ever experienced the terror of having your head held underwater? Remember gasping for breath when you surfaced? Took a while to recover, didn’t it? But at least you did.

That can’t be said for a fish that is essentially drowning in air while being posed for photo after photo by anglers, many of whom are increasingly looking for social media glory.

Death by Instagram. SMH.

Many of us have done it, likely unaware that gills exposed to air for too long, internal organs crushed by gravity, jaws damaged by hanging, or protective skin slime wiped away by dry hands can lead to a quick or slow death. As the late, great angler Lee Wulff once said, “Gamefish are too valuable to be caught only once.”

A fight over 15 minutes puts the fish at risk. I once failed to revive an 8-pound bonefish for a spin angler fishing 4-pound line after a 20-minute fight. I was also subject to fishing with a friend who insisted on using a 4-weight fly rod for Florida Bay redfish in 90-degree shallows, and the fish would go belly-up. I’ll never do that again.

Consider leaving your catch in the water boatside. A jaw clamp is fine to remove the hook, but don’t lift the fish by the jaw to weigh it. Instead, wet your hands and support the fish under the head and midsection. Make sure your partner has the camera ready. Lift the fish, get the shot, lower the fish, and keep it supported until it can swim from your hands.

Rubber nets are helpful to keep a fish steady while unhooking—they do not remove slime from the skin. And consider taking down your hook barb with pliers. Leave a small bump, and it will normally keep the hook in place during the fight.

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