From the second they’re hooked to the moment of release, fish experience some level of stress. This stress can cause negative health effects such as diminished ability to avoid predators, reduced reproductive success, and delayed mortality related to disease – even if a fish vigorously swims away. While stressing fish is an unavoidable aspect of fishing, you can dramatically reduce this stress by following the keepemwet principles:
PRINCIPLE 1: MINIMIZE AIR EXPOSURE
Just like humans, fish experience exercise-induced stress causing them to tire and have diminished muscle function. In order to recover from being caught, fish need to be in the water so they can breathe and pump oxygen into their system.
Holding a fish out of the water prevents recovery and can lead to death if done for too long. Even shorter durations (as little as 10-20 seconds for some species) can have serious effects on short-term and long-term fish health.
You can reduce these health effects by keeping a fish’s mouth and gills fully submerged in the water as much as possible during handling.
Generally the less a fish is handled, the better, so you should prepare in advance and take extra steps to minimize handling time. Measures like fishing barbless hooks, having tools easily accessible, and many of the other keepemwet tips help reduce handling and help you return fish to their natural environment more quickly.
Be sure to check out these tips to learn some simple easy ways to accomplish all three keepemwet principles.
Following the keepemwet principles is something everyone should easily be able to do. All it takes is a little preparation and mindfulness before heading out on a trip and while on the water. By incorporating these tips into regular fishing practices, you can eliminate contact with dry surfaces, minimize air exposure, and reduce handling. This list of tips is by no means exhaustive, but rather a starting point of simple and easy steps every angler can take to keepemwet
TIP 1: REDUCE ANGLING DURATION
By landing a fish quickly and without playing it to exhaustion, you can dramatically reduce stress the fish incurs. This can be achieved by ensuring tackle is appropriately matched to the targeted species.
TIP 4: FISH BARBLESS HOOKS
Crimp the barbs on hooks. Not only do barbless hooks cause less damage to a fish’s mouth, but they are also much easier and quicker to remove – especially important when one ends up in your ear or finger!
TIP 7: CARRY HOOK REMOVAL DEVICES
Carry easily accessible pliers or other hook removal tools, which enable quick and careful hook removal.
TIP 2: FOLLOW LOCAL REGULATIONS
In some places it is illegal to remove certain species from the water, such as wild steelhead, salmon, and bull trout in Washington. Be aware of these regulations to ensure you are acting in accordance with the law.
TIP 5: FISH WITH NETS
Nets are not always necessary, but often they help land fish quicker and in deeper water. Nets also help reduce handling by allowing you to keep fish in the water while unhooking, reviving, and photographing them.
TIP 8: PHOTOGRAPH WET FISH
Photograph fish in the water. If a fish is momentarily taken out of the water, keep it as close to the water as possible and fully submerge it between pictures to give the fish a quick breather. Ideally, let the photographer call the shots – 1, 2, 3…raise the fish….and click.
TIP 3: HOLD FISH OVER WATER
Fish are slippery creatures and can easily be dropped. So when holding a fish, keep it in or slightly above the water – not over boats or land. That way if dropped, it falls back into the water unharmed.
TIP 6: ONLY USE RUBBER NETS
As opposed to knotted and mesh nets, rubber nets are less abrasive and will not get caught in a fish’s gills. Plus, hooks don’t snag as much on rubber nets, and they look great in photographs.
TIP 9: GRIP FISH CAREFULLY
Fish have sensitive internal organs, so hold them lightly without squeezing. Avoid placing your hand over their mouth and gills as it obstructs breathing. With larger fish, grip the tail wrist with “A-Ok” finger formation and gently support the body under the front fins.
TIP 10: CAREFULLY REVIVE FISH
If a fish can not swim away on it’s own it may need reviving. This can be done in a river by submerging the fish and holding its head facing upstream so that the water runs in the mouth and through the gills. In stillwater situations, move the fish in a figure 8 pattern to simulate this effect.