Program Information

Ministry of Natural Resources’ Catch and Release Recommendations

Careful Gear Selection – Selecting the right rod, reel and line is the first step. Your tackle should be matched to the kind of fishing you will be doing. For example, an ultra-light outfit with four pound test line might be fine for 6-10 inch (15-25.5 cm) walleye, but not for pike or muskie. A long fight to bring in these big fish causes them enough stress to greatly reduce their chances of long-term survival.

Artificial Lures as an Alternative – Artificial lures generally result in fish being hooked in the mouoth or lips, and not the gills or throat, since the hook is set as soon as the strike is felt. This reduces handling time and injury due to deeply ingested hooks. Using artificial lures is also fun and challenging.

Try Barbless Hooks – Using barbless hooks makes releasing fish quick and easy. Often barbless hooks can be removed without even touching the fish. If you cannot find barbless hooks at the tackle shop, simply pinch down the barb with a pair of pliers or file the barb off.

Capture Correctly – Learn how to hold a fish and remove your hooks. Most fish can be secured by placing a wetted hand firmly over the top of the head and gill covers. Never hold a fish by the gills or eyes, this can result in serious damage or death. Mechanical grabbers are also harmful to fish.

Hooks Out – Hooks can be easily removed by using long nosed pliers. Pliers let you reach into the mouth and let you grip hooks much better than you can with your fingers.

Administer Aid – Most fish that become stressed from the trauma of being caught can be revived by administering aid. In a moving water situation, the fish should be held heading upstream into current to allow oxygenated water to flow through the gills. In a lake or ice fishing environment, fish should just be carefully cradled in the water and NOT moved back and forth.

Never Hang Up – Because water is much more dense than air, taking fish out of water puts a tremendous strain on their muscles, internal organs, and skeletal system. The risk of injury increases with the size of the fish. When you take fish from the water, either to remove the hooks or take a picture, you can minimize damage by keeping the body of the fish in a horizontal position.

Don’t let it Swallow – Small hooks, used with bait, are often ingested deeply, so rather than remove them and risk serious injury, it is better to cut the line and leave the hook embedded. A small hook, even in the throat of a fish, will dissolve in a few days and the fish will be fine. Quick strike rigs, used when fishing with large live or dead bait will also help prevent deep ingestion.

Reckon with the Weather – During winter, fish shouldn’t be released on extremely cold days if they are taken out of the water, so remove hooks while the fish is still in the hole. When it is warmer, a fish can tolerate cold air for a minute or two before its gills and eyes begin to freeze.

Every Second Counts – Minimize the time fish are kept out of the water. If possible, keep fish in the water while hooks are removed. Even a few inches of water under a fish can reduce injury. If a fish must be removed from the water, be careful not to drop it. Don¡¯t let it thrash around on shore or inside the boat. This can injure the fish and remove the slime coating which helps protect it from disease.

Look Elsewhere – Catch and release has some mortality associated with it, even when practiced properly. An ethical fisherman,
therefore will catch a few fish, keep the ones he or she wants, practice good catch and release methods on others, and then pursue other species.

Even in Summer – Generally, the cooler the water the better the chance a released fish will live. Make a plan to release your catch, avoid fishing during extremely hot periods of the summer.

Attention to Deep Water Releases (more than 10 metres or 30 feet) – Cold water species, such as lake trout, can rapidly equalize changes in water pressure. They can usually be released successfully regardless of the depth they came from. Warm water species don¡¯t have this pressure-equalizing ability. Fish such as walleye therefore should be brought to the surface slowly and the released immediately, if possible. Fish caught from deep water can be released by allowing them to slip out of your wetted hands head first into the water, while you are in a standing position. This not only heads the fish in the right direction, but also sends a blast of oxygen through its gills. If you plan on releasing your catch, avoid fishing in deep water.

Stringers are for Keepers – Never place a fish you are intending to release on a stringer. Although some anglers keep all fish in their live wells and release them at the end of their fishing trip, this practice is discouraged and in some lakes legally prohibited. Delaying the release may result in unnecessary stress to otherwise healthy fish, and could reduce their chances of survival.

Ensure Against Disease – If using a net to help fish, consider buying one with a coated or rubberized mesh that helps reduce injury to gills, eyes, and fins. The coated or rubberized mesh nets can help to minimize removal of slime from fish and scratching and splitting of fins. Using a wet hand or wet mitt to assist in hook removal will help avoid excessive loss of slime.