8 tips to ensure safe releases!

how to hold a trout

“I’ve never fished for trout,” and, “I didn’t even know we had trout in Missouri,” are common phrases we hear in the resort fly shop. A lot of our customers are lifelong bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill fishermen, and they know how to handle their native species. However, trout are very different and require special handling in order to ensure their safe and healthy release. In this article we’ve compiled 9 tips for beginners and seasoned anglers alike who want to know how to hold a trout so that it can safely swim away.

Lake Taneycomo is home to world class trout with several documented browns over 30 pounds, and some of the fattest rainbows in the midwest. There’s no better feeling than reeling in a fish that’s bigger than the one you expected to catch, and the key to ensuring that opportunity on our body of water is practicing safe trout handling as you release your fish. Many long-time and first-time fishermen on Taneycomo understand and have every intention of releasing their fish, but it’s clear in the photos and videos we see that a lot of these trout are mishandled leaving some to struggle and others to die after they’ve been released.

 So consider yourself called out! We challenge you to not only practice the safe handling tips below, but also to share them with your fellow anglers. As you lift your fish out of the water to take your photo, feel the weight – not only of the fish, but the of responsibility to your fellow anglers and the fishery itself. So here we go!

Long, drawn out fights will kill a big trout just like other species of fish like stripers.

Note: Rubber nets are best for trout as they remove less of the fish’s slime coat. They’re also much easier to get your hooks out of.

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Remove the hook while it is still in the water and only lift the fish out of the water to take a photo. You can even measure it in the water if you have a cloth tape, but if not, do whatever you can to take your measurements while the fish is in the water.

Note the fish’s body language before pulling it out of the water. If it’s sluggish and unable to float upright, it’s going to need more time to recover before you get your photo.

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Trout depend on their slime coat to protect their scales. Porous cloths will strip the slime coat and leave the scales exposed to parasites and disease. Your bare hands will do just fine. Simply wet them before touching the trout.

 Here’s a video showing the delayed harm that gloves or cloth can do.

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Many fish are picked up by the gills which makes sense from a control standpoint. They’re something to use to get a grip that the fish won’t easily flop out of. However, the gills are easily damaged, and any damage is detrimental to the fish. It’s best to control a trout with a hand around the tail, but don’t squeeze too hard. Hold the fish horizontally with a hand underneath to support the trout’s weight.

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When taking a photo, try to hold the fish over a net at all times. That way, if the fish drops it won’t hit the boat’s hard surface and cause damage.

If it’s a bigger trout, hold it horizontally, not vertically. Holding a big fish vertically puts undue pressure on its organs and may cause damage. 

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When it’s time to release you catch, hold the fish in the net underwater and work with it if necessary. Move it back and forth to force water through its gills. Make sure it is strong enough to at least swim out of the net before releasing. If a fish is released and it falls to the bottom on its side, silt will cover its gills and it will die.

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Boga and fish grips used on smaller trout (less than 18 inches) are probably okay if applied correctly to the fish’s jaw, but using a grip on a trophy trout can cause serious damage to it. The clip should be applied to the lower jaw inside the mouth and NOT back by the gills. If a fish flops while the clip is applied through the gill plate, the clip will hit the gills and cause damage and bleeding. I’ve seen many pictures of trout on Facebook with the clips through the gills and blood running down the sides of the fish. That fish is as good as dead. If it’s being kept, that’s fine. If a big trout is clipped in the lower jaw and it bolts, the action of the heavy fish will cause the clip to cut all the way through the outer jaw. This will impede the fish’s ability to eat and the fish will die a slow death. We’ve seen it and it’s awful.

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 Keep in mind, a fish’s gills are exposed to air when held out of the water. During extreme hot and cold weather the air can cause damage to the gills in a very short period of time, even seconds. In the case of extreme cold weather, the gills can actually flash freeze, killing the fish immediately. We’ve seen it happen!

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This goes without saying, but unfortunately, we need to say it: keep the fish in the water for every possible moment!

Fish get their oxygen through the water and cannot breath outside of it. Every extra second is potentially damaging, so keep them swimming as long and as often as possible.

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healthy fish, happy angler

We all love to admire our catch – no matter how much guilt the internet’s shade slingers send our way! The truth is that admiration for the species is the only way to enlist new recruits into it’s conservation. So let’s find some middle ground. Let’s keep getting those trophy photos while doing our very best to ensure our trophies can become someone else’s trophies too.

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