Fish Welfare – Landing, Unhooking and Releasing your catch

Fish welfare should be at the centre of everything that we do as anglers.  After all, if we don’t look after the fish we catch and ensure that they go back fit and healthy we shouldn’t be fishing for them in the first place.  When fishing for apex predators like the pike this is even more important as, the loss of a large fish through poor angling or handling can have a huge impact of on the whole ecosystem.

Safe fish handling is however not a black art but like any skill it requires a bit of instruction, and practice to build the confidence and experience to ensure that neither you, or more importantly the fish come to harm.   Like with most things in angling, a little bit of planning and preparation will ensure that we never get into a situation that we can’t handle.  Follow these golden rules and you won’t go wrong:

  1. Ensure that you have all the appropriate equipment you require;
  2. If fishing from the bank let the fish rest in the landing net while you get organised.  If fishing from a boat make sure all of your unhooking equipment is ready and to hand.
  3. Always use and unhooking mat.
  4. Make sure that you have the fish under control.  Placing it on its back will almost always calm it down and let you get a better grip.  With large predators like pike you are often better straddling the fish to stop it getting leverage on the ground and thrashing about.
  5. If you are using rigs or lures with more than one hook, always disgorge the top hook first.  If you cannot remove a hook use wire cutters to cut the hook as close to the point of entry as possible.
  6. Keep the fish out of the water for the minimum time possible.
  7. When returning the fish, support it upright in the water holing it by the wrist of the tail until it kicks and only release it when it is strong enough.

If you are new to lure fishing we would strongly recommend contacting a qualified coach and getting some basic instruction on unhooking predatory fish as it is probably the most important skill that you need to learn.

In the coming year we hope to produce our own video clip to demonstrate how to safely land, unhook and release your catch but in the meantime there are plenty of good video clips on YouTube.  Including the following two.

Angling Times chief photographer Mick Rouse shows how to quickly and easily unhook a pike without it or you coming to any harm.

Alternatively watch:

How to unhook a pike – Tips and instruction on how to hold, unhook and care for a pike by River Piker.