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Freshwater Fishing Tips

Fish Species

Catch and Release Fish Handling

Male fisherman holding a fish in the water over the side of a boat

How do I properly release a freshwater fish?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages anglers to release any fish that they are not going to use. Moreover, fisheries conservation laws require some fish to be released based on bag (creel) limits or size restrictions. Whether you are releasing fish voluntarily or to comply with the law, knowing how to do so properly will greatly increase the fish's chance for survival. Please remember that if you are going to release your catch, it is very important the fish be properly handled and released as quickly as possible.

  • Plan ahead before you remove the fish from the water: have your dehooker, measuring devices and camera ready—remember the fish should not be out of the water longer than you can hold your breath.
  • Strike quickly when a fish takes your bait or lure to reduce the chance of it swallowing the hook.
  • Play fish rapidly, the longer and harder it fights the greater stress on the fish.
  • Placing the fish back in the water between photos or measurements can be a good idea, especially if you have a live well*.
  • Do not use gaffs or knotted nets, and if lifting the fish by the jaw be careful not to bend the lower jaw down. If you need to hold the fish horizontally grasp it firmly by the lower jaw and gently under the stomach with a wet hand. Minimize disturbing the slime coat, which protects the fish from infection.
  • Use barbless hooks or mash the barb down. Circle hooks can be especially beneficial. Do not use stainless steel hooks.
  • Use de-hooking tools and, if necessary heavy cutters, to cut and remove hooks. Today’s hooks do not rust out.
  • Learn new methods to back hooks out. Cut line, gently pull shank to reverse hook and remove with pliers.
  • Keep the fish out of the water for as short a time as possible—no longer than you can hold your breath.
  • If the hook does not come out easily, use a dehooking tool.
  • When releasing the fish, place it gently in the water head first. If necessary, move the fish in a gentle figure eight to pass water over the gills (do not pull it backwards).

Check out our TrophyCare page for more information best fish handling and measuring techniques.

* Note: taking photos and measurements allows you to submit your fish to Florida's Angler Recognition programs, including TrophyCatch and Big Catch, for certificates and much more.Register now to learn more and for a chance to win great rewards.
** Note: most non-native fish should be harvested and not released, the exceptions are peacock bass and triploid grass carp.

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