Looking After Your Trout
Handle With Care
Anglers love trout. They spend thousands of dollars on the best gear, amass extensive collections of flies and lures that realistically will never get wet and travel huge distances to cast to fish they may never catch.
So it is puzzling that when they do catch something, some don’t always treat the object of their affection with more care.
Anglers need to avoid fighting trout for too long on light line, dragging them onto hot rocks and extracting hooks with little care or delicacy.
The fish may well be returned to the water, allowing the angler to congratulate themselves on their angling ethics because they let the fish go “to grow bigger”.
But the sad reality is that the fish could die as a result of the rough handling they endured and this has an impact on the long term survival of the trout fishery. This is just simple maths. If an angler keeps their limit of say three trout and releases the other six they also land but treat badly, then the real impact on the fishery could well be nine fish killed, not three.
It doesn’t take long before the compounding toll has a real affect and soon those same anglers are shaking their heads and blaming everyone but themselves for the falling trout numbers.
What to Do:
Looking after the trout you catch begins with your equipment.
- Use the heaviest line you can get away with. Too light a line means you will have to fight the fish for longer and that takes a toll – an exhausted fish has much less chance of surviving.
- Use a single hook and consider trying barbless hooks.
- Aim to land your fish quickly. Modern reels have great drags, so make the most of these and the rod’s leverage to get the trout close enough to net.
- Use a net to land your fish, preferably a knotless one.
- Keep the trout in the net and in the water while releasing it.
- Unhook the fish gently, preferably with long nosed pliers.
- Work quickly and avoid touching the fish at all.
- If you want a photo, make it quick and get the fish back into the water without delay.
- Wet and cool your hands before handling the fish and consider using gloves.
- Ideally, take the photo of the fish still in the water.
- If you have to hold the fish, do it gently with one hand around the tail and the other carefully cradling the fish.
- Keep your hands, hooks and anything else away from the trout’s gills.
What Not to Do:
- Don’t drag the fish onto shore and leave it flapping around on hot rocks, beating itself up on the unforgiving shore. This is a death sentence.
- The same goes for boat anglers – a hot deck will kill a trout.
- Don’t touch the trout’s gills. If your fish is bleeding from the gills, kill it as studies have shown that they won’t survive to see another dawn.
- Don’t squeeze the fish, especially around its belly.
- Don’t keep the trout out of water any longer than necessary. Remember, fish don’t breathe any better in air than we do underwater.
- Don’t use treble hooks, especially the double sets found on some lures. Replace them with a single hook which works just as well and makes it much easier to release fish.
- Don’t bring up fish from deep water too quickly when lake fishing from boats.
To Keep or Release:
Trout make good eating so if you are keeping them for the table, make the decision and kill them quickly. A sharp blow to the head with a rock or priest does the trick nicely or iki them. Finish it off with a trip to the smoker, a squeeze of lemon and a slice of bread – you don’t have to apologise for selectively taking fish for the table.
If you are going to release the trout, handle it gently and ideally keep it in the water while you gently unhook it. Make sure it is upright and hold it into the current so the water can flow over its gills. Once the fish has recovered, it will kick out of your hands and swim away.
It Makes Sense to Look After Fish
New Zealand is famous around the world for the quality of its trout fishing, the size of the rainbows and browns that live here and the magnificent country they thrive in.
The desire to catch a trophy trout is a passion for many anglers, while for others, fishing is a more practical venture, combining a day’s recreation with the chance to put a meal on the table.
Whatever the motive, all anglers need to take care to look after the fish they catch so they are either despatched humanely for eating or released to grow bigger and breed.
For all their hard-fighting capabilities, trout are vulnerable to poor treatment by anglers. It makes no sense to handle a fish so badly that it will be poor eating or die when it is released.
Looking after the fish we catch is not only better for the health of our trout populations and the future of the fishery, but also your reputation as a provider of good quality food for family and friends.