Handling fish

Once you have landed the fish you will need to handle it to un-hook it and stow it away if you plan on keeping it.

Panfish, particularly sunfish, have sharp spines in their top (dorsal) fin that need to be avoided. The best way to grab a sunfish or crappie is to loosely start grasping the fish behind the eye using your entire hand.  Once your hand is in position, slide your hand toward the tail while compressing the top fin downward and firmly grasping the fish. This will collapse the sharp spines into a harmless position.

If the fish is small and will likely be returned to the water, wet you hand prior to handling the fish. Doing so will remove less of the protective slime from the fish and allow it to be returned to the water unharmed.

Once you have the fish firmly in your hand, you can un-hook it. Needle-nosed pliers are a handy tool for un-hooking fish; simply clamp the hook near the base of its bend with the pliers and give it a sharp twist.

If the fish is hooked deeply, a de-hooking tool is handy to reach into the fish's throat to un-hook it. Long-nosed pliers may also work.  Another alternative is to cut the line and re-tie your hook. Fish with hooks embedded in them usually survive just fine while the hook rusts and dissolves.

Lures with treble hooks (three hooks welded onto one shank) may hook a fish multiple times and will need to be carefully removed. It is best to systematically work on one hook at a time until they are all free. 

While you are netting or landing the fish, you will need to decide if you are going to keep the fish or not. Even small fish can provide a delectable morsel of food. However, if you want to return it to the water, do so quickly so the fish sustains as little stress as possible.  

Crappies should be handled the same way as sunfish. However, because they have a much larger mouth, they can be handled by inserting your thumb into their mouth and clamping down on their lower jaw.

If by chance you catch a catfish, additional care is warranted. Catfish have spines in their dorsal (top) fin as well as their front (pectoral) fins. Smaller catfish should be grasped from the belly, slipping their pectoral fin between your fingers on one side and outside of your thumb on the other. Larger catfish can be grasped by inserting your thumb into their mouth and clamping down on their lower jaw. Catfish have coarse, sandpaper-like teeth that may abrade your skin. They will also likely clamp down on your thumb for a short period of time. Although this can be unnerving, it rarely causes injury.

Bass can be handled by inserting a thumb into their mouth and clamping down on the bottom jaw. They do not have big or sharp teeth.

Pike, pickerel and walleye have sharp teeth. Do not put your thumb in their mouths! They are best handled by carefully reaching across the top of their heads and into their gill openings. Yellow and white perch can be “lipped” like crappie or bass, or handled like sunfish. However, both have very sharp gill covers that need to be avoided.

Fish that are played for a long time, and are going to be released, may need to be resuscitated before they are let go. This is accomplished by gently grasping them by the tail, immersing them in the water, and swishing them gently back and forth to force water through their gills.

Small fish that have not been played for a long time and are going to be released should be gently returned to the water.

Sometimes you may catch a different fish that what you intended to catch. If it is legal to do so, you may keep these fish.  If you elect to, or are required to, return them the water, do so as soon as you can. Keeping fish out of the water for more than 60 seconds diminishes their survival significantly.

Photographing Your Catch

Catching fish is fun! Sharing photographs of your catch with family and friends is part of that fun.

When taking a picture of you and your fish, center the photo on the fish and the face of the person who caught it. It is also important to pay attention to the background. If possible, compose the photo to show the lake, pond or river in the background.

If the angler is wearing a hat, have them tilt it backwards slightly to reduce any heavy shadow it may cast on the anglers face. Turing the subject around to face the sun will help. Taking the photo in the shade is also a good technique to avoid harsh shadows. Sunglasses should be removed.

If the fish is going to be kept, take some additional time to compose a photo that really tells the story. If possible, hold the fish in a horizontal position rather than vertically by its mouth.

If is going to be released, and the photo session is going to last more then 60 seconds, place the fish back temporarily back in the water partway through the session.