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Florida Go Fishing man holding snook fish

Catch & Release Fishing

Girl with a gripping defice holding a fish in the water from a boat
Photo courtesy of GAFFLife.com

Catch & Release fishing is becoming the "wave of the future" in order to protect our fisheries.

The state of Florida wants to remain "The Fishing Capital of the World" and encourages all anglers to always try to "Limit Your Catch, Not Catch Your Limit." The responsibility for protecting our fisheries is in the hands of the individual angler. Developing a catch and release attitude and fostering voluntary release of fish that could become table fare ensures the survival of this sport.

There are special tools and gear used for Catch & Release fishing. Recommended Gear and how to use them are further down on this page.


This excellent video from FWC shows all the tools & techniques involved in catch and release fishing. There are also excellent underwater shots of snook, bill fish, and other game fish.

Click here for the Florida Fish and Wildlife's Catch and Release Guide. Also see Florida Sea Grant's great website Catch and Release.

Caution SignAvoid removing large fish from water. Take any pictures of your catch while it is in the water. This puts less stress on the fish and the fish will look bigger. If you must remove them, support their weight horizontally to prevent damage to their internal organs.


Saltwater Fishing

Man holding a snook in the water practicing catch and release Many anglers target saltwater species for table fare. Catching and keeping only what you will eat TODAY is a good habit to develop and fosters a catch and release attitude. Many offshore and some inshore species can be rather large and hard to handle. Learn the techniques for safely catching and releasing these fish by watching the above FWC video.

Many fish you catch will be either undersized or no take due to species regulations or bag limits. Fish caught in deep water exprience a swollen swim bladder due to the pressure change when bring them up from the deep and must be deflated before returning them to the water.

IT'S THE LAW: All vessels fishing must have aboard venting and dehooking tools and non-stainless steel circle hooks when using natural baits for the purpose of reducing mortality in reef fishes, including Snapper, Grouper and Goliath Grouper. If you practice Catch & Release fishing these tools are essential. Further down this page we have details on all these tools.

Venting vs Recompression of fish, which is best? That is your preference but you must be aware that it is ILLEGAL to recompress fish on the Gulf of Mexico, only venting is allowed at this time. It is OK to recompress as a means of deflating fish on the Atlantic.

Tip iconWet your hands before handling fish to prevent damaging its protective slime coating. Don't use gloves or towels, as this will remove the protective slime.


Guidelines for Catch-and-Release Fishing

Bloated Snowy grouper
Bloated Snowy Grouper Photo Courtesy of Bouncers Dusky 33

By Ron Taylor, FWC Marine Research Institute

The most important contributions an angler can make to a successful release are to hook and land the fish as quickly as possible, leave the fish in the water while dehooking, and quickly release the fish.

Additional tips to improve survival from catch-and-release are:

  • Decide beforehand which fish are to be kept and immediately release all others.
  • Try fishing with barbless hooks or crimp and remove the barb. Catch rates using barbed and barbless hooks are not significantly different. Advantages of barbless hooks are the reduction in time required to dehook the fish and less physical damage to the fish from hook removal. There is no difference in mortality between barbed or barbless hooks.
  • Avoid the use of gaffs or landing nets made of hard polypropylene or nylon that tend to abrade and remove the protective slime from the scales.
  • Cut the leader close to the hook when releasing large jewfish, tarpon, sharks or other fishes that are gut hooked that you do not plan to keep. Do not lift a gut-hooked fish out of the water by the leader; this can increase hook damage.Grouper held with pliers
  • Wet your hands or gloves to handle the fish. Do not injure the eyes or gills. Remove as little slime as possible by placing the fish on a wet towel. To keep the fish quiet, place it on its back or cover its eyes with a wet towel. Control the fish at all times! The fish could fatally injure itself against the boat.
  • If the hook is difficult to remove by hand, use long-nosed pliers or a de-hooking tool. Do not tear additional tissue, but back the hook through the original injury. If this fails, cut the leader and pull the hook through the injury.
  • If your fish is in good shape, put it back into the water head first. If it doesn't swim or is lethargic or erratic, regain control to prevent "waste."
  • Revive exhausted, but otherwise healthy fish by placing one hand under the tail and hold the bottom lip with the other. Move the fish into the shade, either alongside the boat, under the edge of a dock, or to the bottom. Cooler water contains more oxygen and the fish will revive faster! If the fish is in fair to good shape, merely hold it headfirst into the current. If it is severely lethargic, depress the bottom lip to cause the jaw to gape and gently move the fish forward. Moving the fish in an erratic back and forth motion may only induce more stress. Severely exhausted fish may require 15 minutes to revive. At the first sign of the fish attempting to swim away, let it go, but keep an eye on it. Some fish will swim a short distance, become disoriented, and die, snook especially. Redfish may move into the grass and appear to be dead but swim away when it is touched.
  • Large pelagics, sharks and tarpon should be brought alongside within 20 minutes of hook-up. Masters Billfish Tournaments require all Grouper held by fishing toolentries be brought alongside within ten minutes. Do not boat large fishes because they are dangerous to both themselves and crew when green. Bringing an exhausted fish out of the water is like placing a plastic bag over the head a marathon runner. It needs oxygen! Catches that are in good shape should be released immediately by cutting the leader close to the hook. If the fish is exhausted, revive it by making sure the head is totally submerged and tow it slowly forward. Game fishes usually "throw their stomachs" when hooked. Don't attempt to replace it; the fish will swallow it after release.
  • If your fish dies despite your best efforts, ensure it meets all regulations then add it to your creel. Otherwise, discard it!

Anglers who fish Florida's waters enjoy the benefits of many well managed stocks that are increasing in abundance. The bounty that makes Florida fishing so popular can lead to over-exploitation. Our obligation is to limit our harvest to those fishes that meet our strictest requirements, either as food or as a warranted trophy. Wise use of our stocks dictate that the remainder of our catches be released so they may live to fight again.

Contact information for Dr. Ron Taylor: 100 Eighth Avenue S. E. St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5095 voice: (727)896 8626; fax: (727)823 0166; email: Ron.Taylor@fwc.state.fl.us
Source: http://www.capmel.com/catch_release.htm

Pelicans - Catch and Release Pelicans?

Pelican sitting in water

Pelicans are very large birds found everywhere near the shoreline. Pelicans eat fish and often get hooked by anglers reeling in their catch. Learn how to avoid catching a Pelican on our Hazards to Avoid page and check out the Rescuing Hooked Pelicans PDF file on what to do if you hook a Pelican.


Catch & Release Gear

Circle Hooks

Circle hooks require a little time to adjust to, but they substantially reduce the mortality of fish because they hook the fish in the jaw thus easy to remove. DON'T SET THE HOOK. DO NOT attempt to set the hook by sharply jerking the rod as this will pull the hook out of the fish's mouth. Steadily and slowly reel in the slack in the line until the hook sets itself in the fish. This requires some patience and restraint. You have to let the fish "hook" itself. When the fish grabs your bait and swims off the hook comes out of it's throat and hooks them on the jaw or corner of the mouth.

When attaching live bait, don't put the hook in the bony portions of the bait, simply hook the bait through a fleshy part of the fish. For trolling it is best to attach the hook to the bait with a rubber band or waxed string which allows the hook to hang freely above the bait.

Using non-stainless steel circle hooks is require by law for live or natural bait fishing in Florida and federal waters. Non-stainless steel hooks will slowly disintegrate in the fish giving them a chance to recover, where stainless hooks last forever and can harm the fish.

These hooks are required by law when using live or natural bait offshore and they must be straight, not offset. Florida Sea Grant has a Circle Hooks brochure with all the details. Another interesting article from Louisiana Sea Grant Circle Hook Magic explains techniques for using the circle hooks. Watch this video on how to choose and use a circle hook.


Landing Nets

To protect catch and release fish it is advised to use rubber coated knotless nets. It is preferable to avoid using nets all together when landing fish to be released. If you must use a net, these rubber coated knotless are the best to avoid injuring the fish.

Rubber Coated Gloves

Rubber coated gloves provide a good grip and protect your hands when fishing. When shopping for fishing gloves, always purchase glove made for fishing. Fishing gloves are tough and are made for wet environments.

When handling a fish to be released, always wet your glove first to help protect the fish's slime coat and scales. It is advised to handle fish with wet hands over using gloves.

When you are done fishing for the day, always rinse your gloves and allow them to dry thoroughly before putting away in your tackle box.

De-Hooking Tools

A variety of dehooking devices

You can remove hooks from fish by using pliers, but de-hooking tools or dehookers make the job much easier. De-hooking tools, or dehookers, are instruments that allow the hook to be secured and the barb shielded without re-engaging when the hook is removed from a fish. Dehookers come in a variety of shapes and sizes; use the tool that works best for the fish you are releasing.

Using pistol grip (bent) long-nose pliers allows you to see into the fish's mouth without your knuckles blocking the view.

A good rule of thumb is to use a de-hooker if you can see the hook. If you cannot see the hook, cut the leader as close to the hook as possible without removing the fish from the water.

You can purchase de-hooking tools on our Shopping page, or click the picture above to purchase our featured model. Watch these videos on how to use a de-hooking tool.

Venting Tools & Make Your Own

Venting a fish with a needleA venting tool can be any hollow, sharpened instrument that allows gases to escape. The venting tool should be inserted 1 to 2 inches behind the pectoral fin at a 45 degree angle. It should only be inserted deep enough to help deflate the fish. Ice picks and knives are not suitable because simply puncturing the fish is undesirable and can result in a mortal injury.

Making your own venting tool is easy. The modified hypodermic needle pictured here is an excellent choice for a fish venting tool. A hypodermic syringe with the plunger removed or a 16-gauge needle fixed to a hollow wooden dowel works well. Larger gauge needles may be harmful to the fish. Cannulas (16-gauge recommended) can often be purchased from farm supply and feed stores. The tool should be cleaned between uses and kept in a safe and accessible place. Chlorine bleach is a good disinfectant. Be sure to cap or place a cork on the tip of the tool after use to prevent personal injury.
Source: Florida Sea Grant http://flseagrant.org/

Professional Venting Tools

Safely deflate the abdominal cavities of all reef fish with a top of the line venting tool. These tools range from $25 to $35 dollars and are made of aircraft grade aluminum to last a long time. The spread-bore needle is designed to be minimally invasive to the fish. When inserted it creates a minute "C-Flap" incision without removing or damaging scales. Once the needle is removed the flap re-seats over the incision and under the scale resulting in less chance of infection and helps promote quick healing.


BlackTip Catch and Release Fish Recompression Tool

West Marine is the exclusive distributor of a new tool for releasing reef fish. This tool is allows the angler to slowly drop the reef fish to the depth you originally pulled it from. It is a simple idea?attach the clamp to the fishes mouth and slowly lover the fish to the reef, once it hits the bottom the clamp releases the fish.

Support Florida Go Fishing and purchase this devise from West Marine through this website by clicking the picture shown to the right. View this demonstration video from West Marine on how to use this great tool.


Tarpon DNA Samples

Florida Fish and Wildlife would like your help getting DNA samples from Tarpon. FWC has free Tarpon DNA Sample Kits you can store indefinately on your boat. Watch this video showing you how to perform the test.