Must Know Catch and Release Fishing Tips For Saltwater Anglers

By: Luke Simonds on July 3, 2015
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catch and release fishing

Image: Photo taken by Nick Shirgio. Angler Patrick Rhea (while out snook fishing with Salt Strong near Boca Grande, FL)

If you’re like a majority of saltwater anglers, fishing isn’t just a typical hobby that you do in your spare time…. it’s a lifestyle!

And if you are like me, your love for fishing most certainly doesn’t separate from you when you are back on the mainland. It’s in our blood and in our soul.

One of the most critical aspects to fishing for my family is that fishing is something that is extremely important to pass down to future generations because it brings families together.

So keeping our fisheries in the best possible shape going forward is a task that we all need to willingly take on. Otherwise, our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids will never have the same kind of fishing experiences that we had as kids.

One of the most important (and easiest) ways we can support our cause is by properly handling the fish we catch. In fact, there are some simple steps can ensure that our released fish live long and fruitful lives. And trust me, from the continuous mishandled fish pictures we see online every day, the fishing community needs to read this entire article.

Because this article features the best practices for saltwater anglers that we all need to be mindful of in order to ensure that future generations can participate in this wonderful lifestyle with an even better fish population.

Note that some (but not all) of these catch and release practices can relate to freshwater fishing as well.

Conservational Best Practices

catch and release fishing pic

Plan ahead: Always bring the appropriate gear to match the fish you’re likely to catch. If you’ll be fishing for big snook near a dock, it is not wise to use 10 lb line because they will most likely be left with your lure/hook stuck in their mouths after breaking the line.

And if you do get a big fish to the boat using light line, it’s exhaustion level is high so you’ll need to spend more time reviving the fish before letting it go.

Wet any surface that will touch the fish: Before bringing a release fish onto a boat, make sure to wet your hands and any other surface that will touch the fish… this will help ensure that it’s protective skin coating does not get wiped away.

  • Do NOT use a cloth rag to grab ahold of a fish… that wipes off the fish’s protective coating
  • If using a net, make sure your fishing netting is lined with a rubber coating

Try to keep the fish in the water at all times possible: When pulling the fish out of the water to get the hook out and/or to take a picture, make sure to have your hook removal gear within easy reach in case it’s needed and have a camera turned on and ready for action. If the camera person is not quite ready after unhooking the fish, then hold the fish in the water until all is set.

Securely hold the fish horizontally using both hands: Be sure to always hold the fish horizontal to the water with one hand supporting the fish’s midsection, and the other supporting its head or controlling its tail.

  • Do NOT touch a fish’s gills. Although the gill covering can allow for an easy grab point, it’s not worth the risk of harming the fish’s gills during the process.
  • Do NOT hold a large fish by its jaw (without supporting its midsection). Their jaws were not designed to hold their full weight while out of the water, so make sure to use your 2nd hand to support the fish’s midsection before lifting a big fish out of the water.
  • Do NOT drag a fish across sand or any other rough surface.
  • Make sure to never drop your fish onto a hard surface.

Adjust gear for catch and release:

  • Use in-line circle hooks when live or cut bait fishing because they are prone to hook a fish along its jaw and not deep in its mouth/gut.
  • If you plan to release most or all of you fish, then de-barb hooks.
  • Seek out lures that don’t have treble hooks.

Do not be a surgeon: If you hook a fish deep in its mouth, then do not attempt to surgically remove the hook. Instead, cut the line as close to the hook as possible so the fish’s internal organs and gills do not get compromised in the process.

  • Do NOT go up through the gills to access a deep hook.

Make time to revive your catch: Revive your fish before releasing to ensure it is ready to be back on its own.

  • If in a spot with current, then keep its head facing the current so water passes through its gills.
  • If no current, then move the fish from side to side under water to have water moving throw its gills.

Check for decompression problems [if the fish was caught in deep water]: A fish’s swim bladder (used for buoyancy) can uncontrollably expand when getting pulled up from the depths too quickly and render it unable to get back down (they’ll just float upside down on the surface and die from exposure, or from a predator coming in for an easy meal).

The speed and depth ranges vary depending on the species of course, but it’s important to be aware of the issue and to take action when needed. If a fish does have a decompression problem, it’s most often noticeable in the form of bulging eyes or stomach, which are caused by the expanded swim bladder pushing out on other internal organs.

Traditionally, anglers use a venting tool to de-inflate the fish’s swim bladder. However, there are some more recent methods for helping deep water fish get back down safely that are being tested…

Latest Methods for Solving Catch & Release Decompression Issues

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Catch and Release Fishing Equipment

Here is a list of fishing equipment that can be extremely beneficial to catch and release fishing.

Fish grips – These tools grip on to a fishes jaw and do not let go until you want it to. This helps ensure that the fish does not accidentally get dropped while also decreasing the amount of area that is needed to touch a fish.

Needle-Nose Pliers: These allow you to efficiently unhook a fish even if it was hooked fairly deep.

De-hooker: This is another tool that can help you more unhook a fish with minimal contact to the fish.

Waterproof phone case: Since phones these days have such nice cameras, a waterproof phone case can help ensure that we can keep our camera close by so a picture can be quickly taken before getting the fish back in the water to release it.

Ventilation Device (offshore): If offshore fishing, make sure that you’re ready to assist you fish with swim bladder issues back down to the bottom.


catch and release fishing tips

Fishing isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle… and it’s up to us anglers to protect our fishing lifestyle so the generations behind us can enjoy it too.

One of the easiest ways to play our part is to make sure we take great care of the fish we catch that we do not plan on eating. While handling our fish to be released, we need to be mindful of the following parts of the fish to ensure it lives a long and fruitful life after being released:

  • Gills
  • Eyes
  • Internal Organs
  • Jaw
  • Skin
  • Air Bladder (offshore only)

If fishing is a lifestyle that you want to continue to enjoy for yourself and your kids, grandkids, etc. then be sure to share these tips with others so we all can continue to enjoy the awesomeness of fishing.

P.S.Tag an angler on this article to help spread the word about proper catch and release fishing. You Rock! Pa-POW!

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Luke SimondsD KellerLarry MLuke Simondsfisher craig Recent comment authors
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D Keller
D Keller

This was super helpful! Haven’t been able to find anything else talking about this online. I’ve been a trout fisherman for years and am very careful to take care of the fish I catch and release. Wanted to make good habbits as I venture into saltwater fishing.

Laurence Megill

I use the old jackpole method from the 50’s for tuna. I file off the barb on my lures as long as you keep the line tight the fish will stay on. If you don’t want the fish just go slack and the hook will slide out. Fish will stay in the water and not be touched.


Great article. I release most fish keeping the occasional table fish. Hope you had a great July 4th.

Ted Gibson

Speaking solely about Snook in this comment. I do not target Snook during the closed season.I use single hook artificial lures as this provides a 99% corner of the mouth hook up the other 1% is usually in the roof of the mouth. I use heavy enough line and equipment to bring the Snook in as rapidly as possible. This increases their survival rate greatly.Snook will fight  to complete oxygen deprivation and even with much revival time invested only about 40 % survive especially when there are Tarpon, Dolphin and Sharks around.And lastly skip the out of water picture and save a Snook!This info comes from over 30 years of fishing for and observing these wonderful hard fighting fish!