The key aim of releasing salmon is to ensure that they survive to spawn. Numerous angling and radio tracking studies have demonstrated high survival rates and successful spawning for salmon released after capture (up to 100% in certain conditions). However, if a fish is poorly handled or kept out of the water for a prolonged period, its chance of survival is reduced. To give your fish the best chance of fully recovering from its capture and going on to spawn successfully, please follow the catch and release best practice guidance below.
Catch and Release Best Practice Guidance
It is important that fish are handled correctly. By following the advice below, you will give them the best chance of going on to spawn successfully:
- Use ‘pinched’ or barbless hooks to reduce unhooking time.
- Limit the duration of the fight, especially during warm low water periods. Using a stronger leader enables an angler to reel in the fish more rapidly.
- If ‘tailing’ a salmon, never beach or drag it onto the bank or exposed gravel bar. After firmly grasping the fish by the tail, place the other hand under the abdomen to support it. Avoid taking the fish out of the water, holding it upside down by the tail or keeping it in areas where you have disturbed river sediment. When handling salmon, avoid any contact with the eyes or gills.
- After carefully removing the fly, position the salmon facing upstream and allow it to breathe naturally without moving it back and forth (which hinders the salmon’s breathing mechanism). Water must be sucked in through the mouth and expelled through the gills by the pulsating movements of the gill covers.
- If the fly is too deeply embedded in the throat, it is best to simply cut the leader and leave the hook where it is.
- Sometimes recovery may take several minutes, notably after a long exhausting struggle. There is no set time to free the revived salmon; its increasing vigorous behaviour will indicate to you the right moment to let it go.
- If using a net to land salmon, use a knotless small mesh size net to prevent injuries to the eyes. The angler should manoeuvre the salmon towards the net which is held stationary, usually by someone else. This person should not chase after the salmon with the net.
- Take the salmon out of the net by grasping it by the tail and supporting it under the abdomen. Large salmon can also be supported horizontally over your forearm to prevent excessive pressure on its internal organs.
- If pictures are desired, keep the head of the salmon under water while making preparations. For posing, salmon can be held out of the water for less than five seconds without endangering its survival.
Recent studies have shown that when done correctly, catch and release had little or no effect on the reproductive capacity of the freed salmon. With an average sized hen salmon weighing 10 pounds producing approximately 5,000 eggs, catch and release can make a significant contribution to salmon conservation.