From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s website come the following catch and release tips:
– Use appropriate tackle and bring the fish in quickly to reduce exhaustion. Using tackle that is too light and playing the fish to exhaustion depletes the fish’s energy reserves and can cause mortality. It also puts the fish at risk of predation.
– Use circle hooks when fishing with live or dead bait. Fish tend to swallow these baits more often than artificial lures. Circle hooks seldom gut hook a fish and usually hook fish in the jaw, making it easier to release a healthy fish.
– Make sure that the point of the hook is aligned with the shank. Circle hooks with offset points have a higher chance of gut hooking the fish. Fish also stay hooked better with circle hooks allowing you to catch more.
– Use artificial baits to reduce the likelihood of fish swallowing the bait and becoming gut hooked.
– Bend down the barbs on artificial baits that have treble hooks to cause less damage to fish when releasing them.
– Plan ahead and be prepared to release a fish before it is hooked.
– Know the best way to handle the fish species you are targeting and have release equipment ready. Using release tools is safer for the fish and for you. There are many devices for removing hooks from fish. Commercial dehookers, forceps and needle-nose pliers can be found in most tackle shops.
– If you can’t see the hook, cut the leader as close to the hook as possible without removing the fish from the water.
– Leaving the fish in the water during release is best, but not always practical. Never boat large fish, take pictures of them in the water. They are dangerous to the boat crew and may harm themselves.
– Minimize stress on a fish when handling it out of the water. Handle it as little as possible and release it as quickly as possible.
– Avoid removing the fish’s slime, which protects it from bacterial infection. Only touch the fish with wet hands. The use of release tools makes touching the fish unnecessary.
– Release fish gently head first into the water. A fish that has been stressed by the fight or handling should be revived by moving it forward in the water to promote water flow over the gills.
– Use good judgment if you decide to take a fish.