Skip to main content

Proper Handling Helps Fish Thrive after Catch and Release

Getting caught can be very stressful for fish; follow these helpful fish-care tips to improve health and survival rates

Proper Handling Helps Fish Thrive after Catch and Release
Proper Handling Helps Fish Thrive after Catch and Release

Summer is arguably the most popular time to fish as muggy, hot days push people to the water for relief and relaxation.

Many anglers, especially those who seek game fish such as black bass, trout or striped bass, release their catch.

“Catch and release works and is a good thing,” said Dave Dreves, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “But, if you don’t handle the fish properly, your good intentions can be reversed.”

Fish have a protective slime coat that acts as part of their immune system. Protecting this slime coat is of the utmost importance when handling fish.


“Fish are surrounded by pathogens all of their lives in the water they inhabit,” Dreves said. “The slime coat is their protection.”


A fish gripper is an essential tool for handling fish with ease and doesn’t harm them. They provide exceptional control of the fish by latching on to its lower lip. “They are a great thing, especially on toothy fish such as walleye, for getting hooks out of fish without touching them,” Dreves said. “They also keep people from squeezing a fish too hard which can damage internal organs.”

Some models with calibrated scales cost a pretty penny, but many on the market simply hold the fish and cost less than $20, with some less than $10.

“These devices keep people from handling a fish with a towel,” Dreves said. “I can’t imagine anything much worse you can do to a fish than using a towel to hold them. You must protect, not remove, the slime coat.”

If you must handle a fish with your hands, wet them first. Dry human skin strips off the fish’s slime coat. “Also, if you plan to measure its length, wet the measuring board before placing the fish on it,” Dreves said. “Make sure to keep the measuring board out of the sun. They can get really hot.”




Secure the fish when landing it. Do not allow the fish to flop around on the bank or in the bottom of a boat. This not only removes the protective slime coat, but may cause injuries.

Anglers who catch a big largemouth bass or hybrid striped bass usually want a photo to commemorate the event. “You see these anglers on fishing shows sometimes hold their fish out of the water for way too long when talking to the camera,” Dreves said. “If I am fumbling around for a fish scale or a camera, I either put the fish back in the water while I hold it or I drop it in the livewell. A fish out of water can’t breathe.”

Livewells work great for keeping fish alive, but in summer they can be a potentially lethal environment for fish if proper procedures are not followed.


“Warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen,” Dreves said. “Because of the heat and the lower levels of dissolved oxygen, summer is a highly stressful time on fish in a livewell.”

Dreves explained the most important thing is to cool the water first after pumping it in from the lake. Two frozen 1/2-gallon jugs of water will cool a 30-gallon livewell about 10 degrees for roughly three hours.

“Then, you need to recirculate the water in the livewell to avoid pulling hot lake water back into the livewell,” he said. “You also don’t want to cool it more than 10 degrees.”

Enter “Keeping Your Bass Alive” in the search box in the top right corner of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s homepage at www.fw.ky.gov for complete details on proper livewell procedures for summer bass tournaments.

“Plus, if you plan to keep fish to eat, it is much better to place those fish in a cooler with ice right away than in a hot livewell,” Dreves said.

Light tackle is fun and produces a lot of fish. But, ultralight rods and 4-pound line are not the best choices for the stressful times of summer if you plan to release the fish. “Some say light tackle is more sporting, but getting the fish in hand as quickly as possible is best for the fish’s health in summer. Long battles are not good for them when it is hot.”

Employing catch and release helps ensure good fishing for future generations, but sloppy techniques can cancel out the benefit of this practice in summer.

Editor’s Note: Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

We know what you're thinking: Isn't Benelli a shotgun company? Of course it is, but decades of shotgun manufacturing actually put Benelli in a unique position to redefine what a hunting rifle should be. Episode 1 reviews some company history to explain how this all came about.

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

Learn more about two new Elite Archery bows, the Enkore and Remedy, two new broadhead from Slick Trick and a new site from Custom Bow Equipment (CBE).

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

New for 2021, here's a look at the new Rage Trypan NC, Nockturnal Shift Nock, Carbon Express Maxima RED Contour and D-Stroyer PileDRIVER arrows.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

This Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe makes the perfect wild game sandwich. Elk burger patties are accompanied by melted Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and Thousand Island dressing and then pressed in between two toasted and golden brown pieces of rye bread.Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe Wild Game

Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe

Kristy Crabtree - October 27, 2020

This Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe makes the perfect wild game sandwich. Elk burger patties...

The new bolt gun with a synthetic stock is available in several popular hunting chamberings.Accurate, Affordable, Rugged: CZ-USA 557 Eclipse Bolt-Action SHOT Show

Accurate, Affordable, Rugged: CZ-USA 557 Eclipse Bolt-Action

Game and Fish Staff - December 02, 2020

The new bolt gun with a synthetic stock is available in several popular hunting chamberings.

Simplify breakfast or brunch for a crowd by making this savory venison chorizo quiche recipe.Southwestern Venison Chorizo Quiche Recipe Wild Game

Southwestern Venison Chorizo Quiche Recipe

Allie Doran - October 30, 2020

Simplify breakfast or brunch for a crowd by making this savory venison chorizo quiche recipe.

Smart technology offers crossbow hunters instantaneous decision making capabilities.Field Tested: TenPoint's Vapor RS470 XERO Proves Itself on Ohio Hunt Crossbows

Field Tested: TenPoint's Vapor RS470 XERO Proves Itself on Ohio Hunt

Dr. Todd A. Kuhn - November 18, 2020

Smart technology offers crossbow hunters instantaneous decision making capabilities.

See More Trending Articles

More Fishing How-To

Many freshwater fish we catch in North America are no problem to lip with our hand, but there are some terrible, toothy terrors you need to find an alternative method to land.8 Fish with Teeth You Don't Want to Lip News

8 Fish with Teeth You Don't Want to Lip

Keith Sutton

Many freshwater fish we catch in North America are no problem to lip with our hand, but there...

Landing a giant bass during the coldest months of the year is easier than you think with these tried-and-true tactics.How to Chase Winter's Leviathan Largemouths Bass

How to Chase Winter's Leviathan Largemouths

Ken Duke - February 02, 2021

Landing a giant bass during the coldest months of the year is easier than you think with these...

Winter is truly the best time to get your hands on a supersized northern.Ice Pike: Tweak Your Game Plan to Target Trophy Northerns Other Freshwater

Ice Pike: Tweak Your Game Plan to Target Trophy Northerns

Dr. Jason Halfen - February 11, 2021

Winter is truly the best time to get your hands on a supersized northern.

Fishing live bait properly can be the difference between success and a long day on the ice.Go Natural with Live-Bait Presentations on Ice Fishing How-To

Go Natural with Live-Bait Presentations on Ice

Joel Nelson - February 18, 2021

Fishing live bait properly can be the difference between success and a long day on the ice.

See More Fishing How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now