Saturday, March 9, 2013


Fly fishing made tremendous gains in knowledge and tactics, equipment technology, stream etiquette and an understanding of the importance of making responsible choices today that will allow us to enjoy the bounty that is found in our favorite streams and lakes. We are the stewards of the beautiful rivers, streams and lakes that we enjoy today. Each of us has to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same passion we do for the sport and all of its beauty. Conversations about the future of our sport lend themselves to the common topics...water conservation, erosion encroachment, water quality, fishing pressure and private property rights among others. But we cant forget a vital component of our sport, THE FISH!

All the fellas I fish with take great care to release the fish they catch unharmed, as most fly fishers do; however, we can always be reminded that sometime during the pursuit of the perfect digital image or digital clip, we are forgetting about the safety of the fish. My buddy forwarded me an article he read in a newsletter authored by Mike Morin of Cutthroat Leaders. I contacted Mike and asked him if I could share some of the information with those of you that might be interested and he told me go for it. You can read the entire article at

Here are some tips to help reduce fish mortality and ensure that the amazing fish that is the talk of your fishing trip, makes the film festivals or ends up on your digital clip can be enjoyed by the next person that comes along and wants to create their own experience.

The 10 second rule
Use the 10 second rule and never keep a fish's head out of the water for more than 10 seconds and give him a good 30 seconds before you lift him again. A fish's gills are remarkably efficient at collecting oxygen but the delicate membranes that extract the oxygen molecules rely on their buoyancy to keep the collecting surfaces exposed. Out of the water they collapse and are useless. A fish can't hold its breath at all because it doesn't have lungs. He is out of air as soon as you lift him from the water. Add to this that his metabolism is raging because he's been fighting for his life and you have a pretty desperate situation.

Hold them loosely
A death grip can cause serious internal injury especially to the heart. The trick is a nice loose grip. The tighter you hold a fish the more he will struggle. To control one, properly grip him just in front of his tail where there's nothing but muscle and let him just rest on a loose hand under the boney part of his pec fins and gill plates.

Barbless hooks
Barb-less hooks go a long way in reducing fish mortality from hook injuries. If you are fighting fish properly you will not lose many and if you aren't, fishing barb-less hooks will teach you to fight fish smarter and you'll be a better angler for it.

Fight with authority
Most of us are taught to play fish too long, exhausting them before they are landed. A fish that is fought with authority is landed fresher and released fresher. Keep a good angle on the fish and use good side pressure. Use the butt of your rod and you can put a lot more pressure on that fish than you think you can and land him sooner.

Use a net
The most fish friendly landing method is to not touch the fish at all. The next best thing is a net. A good quality catch and release net with a long handle and a large basket is good to use.

Protect their heads
Fish heads are not designed for hard surfaces. A seemingly benign blow to the head can end in a fish going belly up after 20 minutes or so. Protect them from the rocky banks.

Never drag a fish onto the bank
Dry land is no place for a fish and they face several dangers. It is impossible to beach a fish without disturbing his protective slime. That slime keeps out a host of dangerous bacteria and parasites. The slime will regenerate but in the meantime the fish is vulnerable. Being on the bank also dramatically increases the risk of head injury, eye injury and oxygen deprivation. If you are by yourself and want to get a photo, find a sandy spot in the margin of the water where to fish can lie with one side submerged. Cover his face with a wet hand to settle him down. Lift your hand and shoot quick.

Always wet your hands
Dry hands remove slime too. Protect the slime!

Cut the fly off instead of digging in its throat
Once in a while a fish takes a fly deep, cut the line and turn him loose, he’ll spit it out. Flies are cheap and you get practice with your favorite knot.

Revive before release
You should always revive a fish before releasing it, especially after a long fight. Hold him in medium fast current where there is plenty of oxygen. Most fish are able to pump water across their gills without the aid of current but slack water has less oxygen than current. Just hold him gently under the pec fins and he’ll go when he’s ready. If he swims a few yards rolls on his side, go get him. He needs more time.

Don’t freeze ‘em
Fish have no body heat and when it’s below freezing the delicate membranes in their gills can freeze surprisingly quick. The colder it is the shorter the time you can safely keep them out of the water. Once it’s below zero don’t lift them at all and never, ever, put them on the snow.

Don’t beat ‘um up in the heat
As water warms up it holds less oxygen. Trout can get highly stressed as water temperatures approach seventy degrees. The stress of a fight can raise their metabolism to the point that they just can’t get enough oxygen. The effects can be lethal. When water temps are high head for high elevation streams or tail waters. You’ll be cooler and the fish will stay healthy.

Thanks JT for sharing this information!

In a future post, I plan on chatting with Mike about Cutthroat Leaders, his company and sharing his approach to leader design and development.

Fish on!


  1. I rarely take a fish out of the water for a picture. The pictures aren't as dramatic, but I don't mind and the fish don't seem to either. Good advice!

    1. Thanks for the snow buddy! Thanks tons for visiting and I hope you found something helpful. Hope you are doing well!

  2. Al, as usual, a great post. Lots of very good information on taking care of the fish. One of my goals this season is to fish barbless. However, as you know from fishing together, I often practice the best possible way to increase trout survivaliblity, failing to catch them.

    1. Mike, Thanks for visiting and we both know better! AHAHAHA not catching them is the best advice and well all fall prey to that technique! But we know better.....Fish on

  3. Great great post, NoCO. Mistreatment of trout is one of my pet peeves, yet I still learned some things. I don't know if I'm ready to go completely barbless, but one of my goals this season is to fish topless.

  4. Thanks for the visit and comments. I hope you found something that was helpful. Barbless is better than topless in your case buddy! Just crimp the barb down and you are good to go!


Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully you found something that interested you. Leave a comment and I'll get back to ya. Happy Nymphing!