We are seeing an ever increasing amount of angling pressure here in Montana over the last few years. With growing towns in Montana, and the best fishing in Colorado being right here in Montana our rivers are seeing anglers like never before. That being said, if we take care of our fish as we move into summer, we can minimize fish kill and Colorado lip (missing mandibles) and keep our trout happy and looking good. There are three things that should be considered while fishing. First, is handling fish once you’ve landed them. Next, its how a fish is released, and finally, how fish are fought.
Handling a fish once landed is always important. The first step is removing the hook. Barbed hooks are not the problem, its people that don’t take care to remove the hook properly. Be gentle, work the hook out in the reverse direction of how it went in. If the hook is stuck in the mandible, use extra care. Mandibles do not grow back, one wrong move and that trout will have a hair lip for life. When a fish has swallowed the fly, use a good set of forceps to remove the hook from a fish. The next step is handling the fish. Trout have a protective slime on their outer skin to help prevent diseases and bacteria from reaching the fish. Ideally, you do not want to touch the fish, this will remove that slime. If the hook can be removed while the fish is in the water, please do so! Of Course we are not discouraging pictures of fish and we understand some need to be touched. When you catch that big trout, try to be prepared to be as gentle as possible with him. Wet your hand, use a rubber net, and keep him in the water as long as you can. We like to see a fish in a photo that is still dripping wet! This is a good sign of proper fish handling! Fish are more than fine resting in the net, just keep their gills pointed up stream, keep them out of the mud, and minimize dry skin contact. Below are a few bullets to summarize good fish handling:
· Remove the hook when the fish is still in the water
· Use a Rubber net bag
· Wet your hands before touching a fish
· Keep the fishes head pointing upstream at all times
· Remove the fish from the water for 5 seconds or less for a photo
· Catch um release tools are a great option for helping to remove the hook from a fish in the water.
The next step is releasing the fish. If the fish is tired out and wont swim away right away, there are a few steps that should be taken. First, keep the fish in the water. Next, keep the gills pointed up river. Let the fish rest in your hand under water in a slower current if possible. Gills work uni-directionally, so just let the fish rest. Moving them back and forth in the water can actually drown the fish by running water the wrong way across their gills. When the fish kicks and is ready to go, let them cruise off or head to the bottom to rest on their own. A few bullets to summarize these steps are shown below.
· Keep the fish wet
· Keep them in the net if possible
· Keep the gills facing up stream at all times
· Do not move the fish back and forth
· If they are ready to go and stay belly to the bottom, let them rest or swim off on their own
Finally, we are going to cover fighting fish. More and more social media and film is glorifying people that are probably killing fish. Those crazy people using 3 weight glass rods for 30 inch bulls are probably killing those fish. Trout are not meant for long battles. Rods are not about looks, use a proper rod for the water and size of fish you will be targeting! If you want a hard fight, go chase carp on your 3 weights. They will pull hard and are more durable than a trout. As a good rule of thumb, if you cant land a fish within 5 minutes, your rod is probably too small. Keep the light weight glass and graphite rods for creeks and small stream fisheries. They have their place, but 20 inch trout on the Madison is not it, especially as the water begins to warm to lethal temperatures. Additionally, don’t pull a Montana wild. If you release a fish with a hook still in it so you can fight and land it with better “footy” a second time, you’re doing something wrong.
The bottom line is fish hard, but take care of our resource. We are fortunate to have so many clean, cold, wild trout fisheries in Montana. If we all work together, we can keep it that way.
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