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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 6:24 am | Mostly Cloudy 43º


Captain’s Log: Releasing Gamefish Alive and Healthy

Various species require slightly different handling to keep from injuring them

Fisherfolk have learned to care about our fisheries resources, and it is very apparent on my charters that anglers in general are taking much greater care when releasing fish not destined for the dinner table. Safely releasing a fish to grow and thrive requires careful handling and an understanding of the needs of the individual fish.

To complicate matters, various species require slightly different handling to keep from injuring them. However, there are three things common to all gamefish.

These are the three “don’ts.” First, don’t tear the gills. Second, don’t rip flesh when removing the hook. It is better to leave a hook to rust out than to tear flesh while removing it. Third, don’t touch the skin on the fish because it removes the slime coat, thereby making the fish vulnerable to infections and parasites. I shudder when I see someone pick up a fish with a rag. That is soon to be a dead fish, even if released.

Here are notes on how to safely release some of our local gamefish.

» Calico bass and sand bass: Bass are among our most sought-after species. Calicos and sandies can be discussed together because their mouths are similar. They have sturdy jaws and small teeth that make it easy to “lip latch” them by inserting a thumb into their mouths and putting the forefinger crosswise under the chin. Gently bend the mouth open to immobilize the fish for the hook extraction work. All in all, bass are pretty easy to work with and are fairly tough.

» Barracuda: These critters have very delicate mouths. I like to use single hooks rather than treble hooks to reduce damage to their mouths while removing the hook. The gills are easy to damage, and it is extremely important to refrain from touching the skin. I like to use a tool to hold these long, slender fish while removing the hook. It is a plastic handle with a long spike that slides up through the corner of the gill plate cover and out the mouth. This reduces chance of injury or infection and is preferable to using hands.

» White seabass: These croakers can’t be kept out of the water long, so it is important to release them quickly. My deckhand and I slide fingers up the inside of the gill plate cover to lift them using both hands without touching the sensitive gills. Remove the hook or cut the line near the hook if it is deep inside the throat. Then put the fish gently in the water to swim away. On occasion, I have helped the fish’s mouth open over the outflow from the bait tank to put some oxygenated water over its gills before releasing it.

» Halibut: These are fairly robust fish if released quickly. Never put fingers inside a halibut’s mouth because they have some serious teeth that can put holes in your fingers. It is best to remove the hook while the halibut is in a net and release it from the net without ever touching the fish.

» Yellowtail: These are strong fish, unless the battle was a long one and the fish is entirely spent. It is OK to pick it up by the gill plate without touching the gills, remove the hook and gently release the fish. When a ‘tail is very tired, I again occasionally hold the fish’s mouth open over the outflow from the bait tank.

» Tuna: These fish tend to be very tired because they fight like there is no tomorrow — which is entirely possible for them. On larger tunas, reach over the side and remove the hook or cut the line without lifting the fish. On smaller tunas, I recommend using a net, then removing the hook and releasing the fish without touching it directly.

» Lingcod: The only safe place to grab a “Lingasaur” is inside the gill plate cover. The gills have very sharp rakers that can easily slice a hand to the bone, so be sure to hold only the gill cover. Extract the hook or cut the line and remove your hand quickly when releasing it in the water because the prehistoric varmint may just bite the hand that releases it!

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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