Fish care – How to land and handle fish safely:

Thursday, June 22, 2017 by Sandy

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by Guest Blogger: Billy the AMFisH guy

Hi fellow fishing enthusiast’s, anglers and fellow AMFisHers, this blog post is about how to land and handle fish safely to prevent personal injury and to keep the fish healthy as well as damage-free. Over the many years of fishing, I have always done my best to not handle any fish I catch too much, with the #1 rule being to always wet my hands really well before grabbing a fish to eliminate removing the protective slime which fish need to survive.  Time and time again I have seen far too many people struggle taking fish off the line whether they are in a boat or on shore, in the end potentially harming themselves or the fish.

The most important tip here everyone is to leave the line slack once you have the fish in the net or have a hold of it.  The habit for many people is to reel the fish in beside the boat with about 5 to 6 feet of line, then grab the line and pull it towards then into the boat, but the problem here is the line is tight  and it will get even tighter as it stretches, causing a lot of resistance on the hook with even more resistance on the fish and all that flex is something you will be battling against, definitely not the right way to do it.

The easiest way to do this is to grab the line above the fish and let some line off the reel at the same time, this gives you an extra few feet of line to work with, while there is no pressure on the hook.  The hook itself on a slack line should be easy to wiggle around with the pliers. Keeping the line tight is for when you are fighting the fish, always keep the pressure on BUT when you are releasing a fish there is no need for pressure you actually need slack line to get the hook out easily, which will also allow you to do less harm to the fish as well as release it in a reasonable amount of time, as well as prevent injury to yourself or someone fishing with you.

As you will see in this video (click here to watch: after the few good jumps this little chunky largemouth put up during the fight, I instantly slow things down drastically from all the excitement that was just taking place. I was battling some wind and current which is where I quickly realized I would not be able to land the fish immediately as I first thought.

I needed to back out of that shallower water to land this fish so keeping my line tight was a key part of being able to land this fish without it jumping off. With my rod secure I paddled backward into a better position before I attempted to finally land the fish. By slowing things down when the fish fight is about to end, this calmer state allows us to be a lot more focused on the tasks at hand. There actually are a lot of things that need to fall into place before a fish can be landed safely and they range from landing the fish on the side of the boat of kayak that best works for you, avoiding clutter and any snags with the rod, having a wet glove ready to grab the fish, battling wind, battling current, having the net untangled/ready and even having your camera/phone ready for those pictures.

With any of the above out of sorts landing any fish can quickly take a turn for any angler, so being prepared before you land every fish is key. Make sure all the tools you will need are organized and easily accessible and by keeping all these items in the same place on each outing really makes things simple and your memory will be kicking in and reaching for those same areas, for what is needed at that moment.  Key items to land and handle fish safety are, a good pair of rubber coated fish gloves, a fish gripper tool, needle nose pliers, fish unhooking tool, jaw spreaders, and an extendable landing net.


(rubber coated gloves)




(fish gripper)


In most cases using a small net, fish lip gripper or lip gripping the fish with your hand will do just fine for landing it safely, but this also depends on the species of the fish. I recommend using rubber coated fishing gloves(note: be sure to wet them first before handling any fish) as they will provide the best grip possible especially if you are not very confident in holding fish. When it comes to a landing net I use a small fold up trout net that works great for landing any size pan fish, bass, walleye and even smaller pike and the net can act like a live well beside the boat, where you can actually leave the fish inside the net until you are fully ready to unhook it and take your pictures. As long as the fish is in the net and under water it should do just fine, so always make sure the fishes head is below the surface of the water at all times.

(needle nose pliers)





(unhooking tool)




Now when you finally land the fish one key thing to remember especially if you are grabbing it by the mouth is to let out some line, to avoid battling the fishing rod. When you have that firm grip on the fishes mouth, let out a little line to relieve the tension off the rod and hook. By doing this is will allow you to have some slack in the line and will make hook removal quite easy at that point. Also avoid placing the fish at the bottom of the kayak, boat or on a grassy/rocky shore as this will only lead to damaging the fish and you scrambling around trying to grab it. A good solid mouth hold on the fish will allow you to unhook it quite safely so there is no need to rest the fish anywhere in your water vessel.

By having the various tools I listed above, you will be fully prepared for any situation that may arise, from a deeply hooked fish where the unhooking tool will come in handy, to the jaw spreaders that may be needed to hold the fish’s mouth open for a serious hook removal. It’s much better to invest a little money into having these tools and being totally prepared versus not having some of them and risking injury to your hands as well as possibly killing a fish that did not need to die because it was hooked badly and you needed some of these tools to save it.


(jaw spreaders)




(extendable landing net)




When it comes to taking fishing pictures the #1 thing to have in mind here is how long the fish is out of the water. Fish can only hold their breath as long as the average person, so please keep this in mind as what we think has only been a few seconds can actually be a lot longer, so giving a fish a few breaths in the water between pictures is a must. Make sure your phone and camera are in a secure easy place to grab quickly and only take the fish out of the water just before you are going to take your pictures. By doing this it will be a lot let stress on yourself and the fish, resulting in much better fishing pictures!

Hope you found this post helpful…tight lines everyone!

The AMFisH guy…Billy

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