When practicing catch and release fishing it’s important to note that different species require different handling practices. Compared to other game fish, trout are more fragile. Because of this, handling these fish requires a slightly different approach. These are 7 techniques to ensure your catches return safely to their feeding lanes. 

1) Wet Your Hands

Wetting your hands before handling the fish is extremely important. Since trout have a protective slime coating that can be whipped off with dry hands, this is an integral step before touching a trout. 

Rainbow trout held in the water
Courtesy of @nativerelease

2) Use Barbless Hooks

It is best to use barbless hooks because it makes for easier unhooking— decreasing the handling time and physical injury to the fish. 

3) Keep Your Hands Out of the Mouth and Gills

Do NOT put your fingers in the fish’s mouth or gills. While it’s fine to lip some species of fish like bass, it is best to keep your fingers out of a trout’s mouth because it puts unnecessary stress on the fish, and because they have small teeth. Keep those hands on the body of the fish!

Brown trout held in the water
Courtesy of @dan.zaz

4) No Squeezing

Since trout have that slimy coating, they can be difficult to handle. Rather than squeezing the fish in order to get control of it, slide your hand underneath the fish and handle it by cradling it. This is something you’ll get better at with time. 

5) Keep Them Wet

Between the time the fish is taken out of the water, and the time when the fish is released, the fish should be wet during the entire process. If you can, it is best to keep the fish in the water the entire time. But, if you need to take the fish out for a quick picture, make sure to keep it quick! For more information on this check out Keep Fish Wet.

Brown trout held in the water
Courtesy of @dan.zaz

6) Don’t Play the Fish

Fighting a fish can be a lot of fun, but prolonging the fight adds unnecessary stress on the fish. To help avoid this, we can use stronger tippet, and try to decrease the amount of time it takes to get the fish to the net.

7) Use Fish Friendly Nets

Netting the fish is super important for keeping the fish in the water during the handling process, but some nets are better for the fish than others. It’s best to use a net with a rubber basket rather than a net with rope or other abrasive materials. Similar to wetting your hands before handling a fish, using a rubber net removes less of the fish’s protective slime, resulting in healthier released fish.

Brook trout handling
Courtesy of @ericbraker

This is a shortlist of some of the most important trout handling practices. If you have others that should be included on this list let us know in the comment section below. As anglers, we are always striving to improve our negative impact on fisheries and the greater world!

Stay tuned for more installments of “Fishing Etiquette.”

Fall Fishing Ethics: Don’t Tread on the Redd [Understanding the Brown Trout Spawn]

KeepEmWet Becomes Non-Profit, Changes Name to “Keep Fish Wet”

The Do’s and Dont’s of Trout Handling


  1. The best item for releasing trout without touching them is the Catch’em Release. It is a 6 inch plastic stick designed to slide down the tippet, over the fly, remove the hook and not damage the fly or require touching the trout. It works great . Yes, it costs a ridiculous 19.95 $ but put it on a zinger and you only need one for life.

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