How to Take Care of Your Catch

hands holding a fish with a hook in its mouth held over a fishing net

“Many folks want that trophy picture, holding the just-caught big fish. Unfortunately, poor technique leads to high fish mortality. Science shows us that holding fish out of water for more than just a few seconds drastically reduces their chances of survival.

But there are good techniques that will ensure the fish’s health and survival.

The ethos of the Leave No Trace philosophy has always struck a chord with fishers like me. From leaving our campsite looking as though no one was there, to gently releasing fish that are unharmed, we strive to harmonize with nature. Big strong trophy fish have the strength and ability to survive adverse stream conditions, water temperatures, roaring floodwaters, and other seasonal challenges. Smaller fish cannot survive these hardships so well. Consequently, our Leave No Harm handling techniques can contribute to nature’s balance and a healthy ecosystem.”

– Chris Madison, Expert Fly Fisherman –


old man wearing a tan hat and a light blue shirt with brown suspenders

Expert angler Chris Madison shares his insight on proper fish handling techniques to ensure a healthy ecosystem.

Try to imagine what your prize fish is experiencing in its frantic escape attempts. That image will help you to understand how a quick and careful technique will contribute to a fish’s health and survival. Good care on our part is critical if the catch is to thrive. Our excitement at the moment cannot be outweighed by the detrimental effects of air exposure and handling techniques. Our ethical practices will help those trophy fish to continue to breed and preserve the stock.

man with a fly fishing rod reeling in a fish into a fishing net



1. Playing a fish too long.

Fish that are played to exhaustion before being released often don’t survive, or else become easy prey for predators. To avoid this outcome, use gear that is heavy enough to land your fish quickly. With a very strong fish, hold your rod horizontal to the water and in the opposite direction to that in which the fish is swimming. This will avoid prolonging the time you take to land and release a healthy fish.

“Our ethical practices will help those
trophy fish to continue to breed
and preserve the stock.”

2. Handling techniques.

Fish have a protective layer of mucous covering the skin that protects them from disease and infections. Damaging this barrier often leads to bacterial infections and subsequent death. Touching your fish with dry hands or other dry objects, or dragging a fish onto rocks or a boat deck all interfere with the mucous layer. Rather, a fisher should wet and cool his or her hands before touching a fish. Consider using gloves and wetting them in the water. If you must touch the fish, cradle it with one hand around the tail. Do not squeeze. Keep everything away from the gills.

hand holding the tail of a fish over a fishing net

3. Netting the fish.

If using a net, a rubberized knotless net won’t scrape off mucous or scales.

closeup detail of plastic fishing net

4. Using barbless hooks.

Crimping barbs on hooks helps in hook removal, yet the remaining nub often causes small tears and cuts in the fish’s mouth. Consider using true barbless hooks, which are safer and easier to remove from a fish (and from our flesh as well). Use long-nosed pliers or forceps to remove the hook, so as not to touch the fish.

closeup detail of hand holding a hook between a thumb and first finger