Overall, catch and release ensures quality fishing for future years. Some may dispute this in reference to certain fisheries, but generally speaking this practice is greatly beneficial.
But how often have you caught a bass only to discover that your hook is down the bass’s gullet? Or worse, the hook has torn a gill? I would like to share some tips that help minimize damage to the fish thus improving the chances of a successful release.
Scientists have studied a fish’s handling of live bait versus the handling of artificials and have confirmed the obvious — fish caught with live bait have a greater chance of being deeply-hooked compared to those caught on artificials. This is a big reason why today, all creditable bass tournament organizations ban the use of live bait.
Bass are much quicker to swallow live bait whereas with artificials, they’ll often handle it in their mouth before deciding to either swallow or expel the lure. And of course, a swallowed hook has greater potential to cause damage to the fish both during the fight and while it is unhooked. The bottom line is to resort to live bait only when absolutely necessary.
Through experience, I’ve learned that the longer a bass has a soft-plastic bait, the more likely the lure will be swallowed. Therefore, I recommend an immediate hookset when using this type of lure (naturally, also recommended for live bait fishing). Most often, this is the best approach because it prevents the bass from rejecting the bait.
No matter what we do, unfortunately, there are going to be times when bass are gut-or gill-hooked. A widely accepted practice is to simply leave the hook, allowing it to eventually rust away. I’ve always been skeptical about this approach, believing that the hook may not rust away as fast as people think. I’ve caught bass with hooks stuck in them havng serious infections surrounding the wound, so instead I’ve developed a technique for dislodging deep hooks.
A Technique For Dislodging Hooks
I’ll grab the hook’s shaft by inserting a needlenose plier through the gill plates. At this angle, the hook’s barb can be rolled out with minimal damage. Often I’ll cut the line and bring the hook out through the gill plate. Also try this “backdoor” method whenever the hooks are caught in the gills. I commonly find the rear treble hook on a plug stuck back there. Of course this method is more difficult with smaller bass because their slits are smaller.
Boating a hooked bass in quicker time helps to reduce stress and recovery times. This seems to be most critical during the summer months. Therefore, try not to play a bass to complete exhaustion, instead bring it in a bit “green.”
How you land a bass is very important to its successful release. In most cases with smaller fish, I believe that simply swinging the fish from the water to a free hand is the best possible method. However, I won’t do it that way if I suspect the bass is hooked in one of its gill arches. Unfortunately through experience, I’ve learned that the weight of the fish can tear the arch causing severe hemorrhaging. Blood will quickly be all over you, the fish, and the boat. Also, the injury could be fatal.
Deeply hooked bass and bigger bass are better off lip-landed. The problem here is that the bass may have to be played longer, subjecting it to greater stress. Landing nets pose the most threat because they remove slime, tear fins, and increase handling time. I’ve also seen gill arches torn from fish when a plug is hooked both in the net’s mesh and in the fish’s arch. However, landing nets also provide the surest way of boating a hooked fish, so if you must use one (I use one during tournament competitions) choose one having a plastic coating over the meshing. This coating prevents hooks from tangling and snagging in the mesh. Loki and Beckman both make nets like this. You’ll save invaluable time with these nets and reduce the amount of handling time on the fish.
Lastly, pinching down the barbs on trebles helps minimize handling time. Hooks will come right out, allowing the bass to be returned to the water in less time. This tip really pays off in waters having lots of smallies and northern pike. I like to use Rapala’s Husky Jerk for smallies, but removing three trebles can be a pain (especially if you stick yourself). But the pike in these waters are even worse of a pain! Pinching the barbs not only will save the fish time, but you as well.
We have great fishing in many of our fisheries today because many anglers are practicing catch and release. I like to release every fish I can; by applying these tips many fish have returned to the water healthy. They’ll work for you, too!
Jim Moynagh is a regular on the FLW Bass Fishing Tour, and has competed in several national B.A.S.S. Tournaments and many tournaments near his Minnesota home. Moynagh has won and placed high in several tournaments, including winning $200,000 in a single tournament a couple years ago. If you would like to submit a question to Jim, send it to GuideOutdoors senior editor Tom Kacheroski at: email@example.com.Please note: All questions will be forwarded to Jim, but space limitations will allow only responses to most asked about topics.
Jim’s sponsors include Normark Rapala, Ranger Boats, Evinrude Motors, G.Loomis rods, Zercom Marine, and Mainstream Solutions.