The Do’s and Dont’s of Trout Handling

Small headwaters, where native trout like this one, will lose federal protections

Perhaps one of the highly discussed topics surrounding the realm of fly fishing is how to handle fish. Trout, in particular, tend to be very delicate fish that require a good bit of caution and care. One false move can be the difference between the life and death of a healthy fish. Below are a few of our golden rules to keep in mind next time you’re on the water.

Play the Right Way.

So you’ve hooked the fish. Your line goes tight and you feel those aggressive headshakes produced by this majestic looking creature splashing in the water. You’re excited. However, at this moment it is important to be mindful of how long you are playing your fish. There is a fine line between over-playing the fish, and playing the fish until it is ready for the net. The quicker you can get the fish in, unhooked, and sent back to it’s home the better. Try and get the fishes head out of the water and slowly guide it into the net. If the fish doesn’t let you raise its head, you know it isn’t ready. Avoid playing the fish til exhaustion, as this can harm the fish significantly by raising it’s stress levels.

Invest in a Net

Nets are absolutely essential when it comes to handling Trout. A net provides an appropriate resting place for a trout after a hard-fought battle. Once you’ve properly played your fish and have it in the net, keep the pocket of the net submerged under the water while holding on to the handle. This will give you time to place your rod down, grab your forceps, camera, etc… while the trout has time to recover. We strongly urge you to invest in a net with a gel rubber insert. These nets are made specifically to prevent rubbing off the protective slime that trout are coated in.

Keep Em’ Wet

“Keep Em’ Wet”, is a term that the fly fishing community coined several years ago, and has thus become a very relevant saying surrounding the sport today. The phrases meaning is fairly straightforward. Keep your fish in the water as much as possible. This allows the fish to breathe, and properly rest after the fight. Every time a Trout’s gills are out of the water, the fish cannot breathe. If possible, unhook the Trout underwater and in your net. We recommend using barbless hooks for ease of removal and for the fish’s health. Under no circumstances should you ever squeeze. We recommend either grabbing the fly and gently pulling until the fish comes loose, or carefully flipping the fish upside down and using your forceps. flipping the fish calms its nerves and will make unhooking it much easier. Once you’ve done that, wet your hands. Wetting your hands is perhaps the most important tip to remember when handling Trout. As mentioned previously, Trout possess a protective coat of slime that they need to survive. Wetting your hands ensures that none of this slime is wiped away.

Smile for the Camera!

Now that you’ve unhooked the fish, it’s time to document your catch. Place one hand underneath the fish’s belly and slowly lift it from the water. This is the only time the fish should leave the water during the whole process. When it comes to photographing your catch, we like to follow the five-second rule. Hold the fish up to the camera and count to five. This should give the photographer enough time to snap several photos. Once you get to five, its time to send your fish back. Oh, and don’t forget to hold your catch extra close to the camera so you can brag to all your buddies about what a monster it was!

Revive, Release, and Recast

You’ve snapped some pictures and admired your catch, now it’s time to release the fish. Place the Trout in the water facing upstream. This allows water to flow through the Trout’s gills and provide it with oxygen.other methods include slowly moving the fish back and forth in the current. This also allows the fish to receive adequate oxygen before swimming off. Now it is up to the fish. Grasp the fish until you feel the energy creep back into it, and when it kicks off, let it go. All there is to do now is throw your buddy a few fist bumps and high fives, and get your fly back out there so you can do it all again!

Photos by Owen Rossi 

Instagram: @nativerelease

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