How to Handle Fish | Handling Your Fish Correctly

Fishing is one of the most popular hobbies on the planet. With so many beginners starting up this awesome past time it is paramount that the best fish care is implemented and anglers know how to handle fish.

It really is surprising how many anglers don’t seem to follow simple steps and guidelines towards ensuring the fish are returned in perfect condition. Some people would argue that fishing, in general, is a cruel sport, and this is an argument that will probably never be settled. For now, fishing is here to stay and the fish you catch should be treated as well as can be.

After all good fish care benefits us all regarding our sport, the healthier the stock of fish the better. Taking a few steps here and there for the fish’s welfare doesn’t even take a lot of time and is hassle-free, so why wouldn’t you do it?

Below is my list of actions you can take to ensure the fish you catch get returned to fight another day.

Be as Quick as You Can When Handling Fish

Before we take a look at the things you will need to look after the fish, there is one thing I should mention. Always be as quick as you can with the fish. By this I mean return the fish to the water as soon as possible. Believe it or not, they don’t particularly like being on the bank especially in the warmer months. This is very important when it comes to bigger fish such as carp, barbel, and pike. These fish will fight hard on their way in and already be exhausted and stressed by the time you get them on the bank. Learn how to handle fish, but also use some common sense.

If you are after a photo of your prize catch, be sure to have all your stuff ready and at hand before the fish graces your net. Get your mat, weigh sling, scales, camera, and unhooking utensils all within hand reach before the fish even hits the bank. This will reduce the time it is out of the water no end.

What is an Unhooking Mat?

If you are a fan of the Facebook fishing pages the chances are you will know what an unhooking mat is. 

When any larger fish are caught they tend to flip about on the ground while being unhooked. Using an unhooking mat reduces the damage to the fish during the process.

They come in all sizes nowadays so even anglers who rove around can carry them around with ease. If you forget or misplace your mat, then some good soft grass is the next best thing. Though some anglers would argue with this.

A big ESP unhooking mat

What Unhooking Utensils are Needed for Handling Fish?

Unhooking utensils are vital for good fish care. They are that important that if you misplace your unhooking utensils then don’t bother fishing. You will almost certainly cause severe damage to the fish. There is nothing worse for the fish than having a hook ripped out of its mouth.

If you are taking up general coarse/match fishing then the minimum you will need is a disgorger and some small forceps. A disgorger is used for smaller hooks and is slid down the line and used gently to dislodge the hook. Always carry a spare disgorger with you in case you lose one. Another tip is to buy plastic ones. Metal ones don’t float too well, and believe me they can be dropped in the water.

Small forceps come in handy if you are using slightly larger hooks. From about a size 8 upwards you may find yourself using forceps instead of a disgorger.

If you get into your predator fishing then you will need some bigger and slightly different kit to deal with the toothy critters. Large forceps, long-nosed pliers, and some side cutters. These should cover all the situations that may arise while trying to unhook fish such as pike.

Always Kneel Down For a Photo

Most of us when we catch a big fish want a photo for our archives. There is nothing wrong with this, but there is just a couple of things to remember. Even if the fish is worn out it can certainly still flip out your hands and land on a hard floor. None of us want that to happen.

So every time you take a photo of your catch, kneel down closer to the ground. This reduces the height of which the fish could fall. And always hold the fish above an unhooking mat or anything similar. So IF it does, unfortunately, flip out of your hold, at least it won’t hurt itself too badly.

Never Leave a Fish Dangling in the Air

This is another subject that gets picked on a lot on social media. It is bad enough that we pull fish through the water with rod and line. But if done properly it doesn’t really cause much damage to the fish.  A lot of people will hold their line and let the fish dangle in mid-air for a photo. It doesn’t really matter how small the fish is you shouldn’t do this. It will cause unnecessary stress and damage to the fish.

Let the Fish Recover

This is more guided to the bigger fish you may catch. If you just let the fish swim straight off, there is a chance it may go belly up. Fish tend to tire themselves out while you are reeling them in, they may not have the energy to keep themselves upright in the water. 

This is especially true in the warmer months when oxygen levels in the water may be low.

Before you release them steady the fish while keeping it upright in the water. Slowly move the fish backward and forward to get some water flowing through its gills. Once it is ready to go you will feel it wanting to swim off.

the best fish care enabled this pike to swim away

A pike recovering in the shallows

Think About the Weather When Fishing

The weather can play a huge part in the best fish care procedures while out on the bank. As mentioned earlier when the weather turns warm oxygen levels in the water drop. Especially so on shallow still waters where there isn’t any flow.

When it is particularly hot it is well worth considering leaving the fish well alone. Imagine struggling to catch your breath then having to go a few rounds with Mike Tyson, this is probably what it feels like. Though pike look big and nasty, these are probably the worst fish for targeting in summer due to them gassing up. We all want our fish to thrive so we can catch them in years to come. So please bear this in mind when thinking about fishing in warm weather.

Carry Some Fish Care Ointment

When out fishing it is a good idea to carry some fish care ointment with you. Every now and then it is likely you will come across fish with nasty bite marks on them, sores, or wounds that haven’t healed. Applying some of this as a treatment could just be enough to help that fish out.

To Conclude

With the odds stacking against them we need to really look after our fish stocks. Pleasure angling doesn’t kill our fish off but bad fish handling can. Please do your bit and show the fish the respect they deserve.

Nowadays they have plenty of new threats to deal with such as pollution, otters, and cormorants they don’t need anymore. Look after your fish and keep the sport going. Learn how to handle fish correctly. Tight lines and enjoy your fishing.