The Complete Guide to Catch, Photo, & Release Fishing

By: Luke Simonds on December 19, 2016
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catch and release

Image: Capt. Justin Napior safely releasing a nice redfish

Are you “CPR certified” when it comes to fishing…

Either way, this post will reveal everything you need to know about CPR (catch, photo, release) fishing.

But first, let’s discuss why proper catch and release is so critical today.

To begin, fishing is more than “just fishing” for most of us anglers.

It’s a lifestyle that we want to enjoy forever…

And it’s a passion that we want to pass down to the next generation.

So it’s on us anglers to consistently do our very best to preserve our favorite past time by being good stewards of our fisheries.

And a big part of preserving our fisheries is making sure anything we throw back has the best chance of survival.

how to hold a seatrout

Tony Acevedo posing with a big seatrout prior to quickly releasing it in Titusville, FL.

So if you want to have your kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids to have the same fishing experiences you did, we need more fish being properly cared for prior to release so they can thrive once back in the water.

Further, it’s our job to help teach others who are new to fishing the proper way to handle fish so that they properly practice catch and release fishing too.

And for those of us who enjoy sharing pictures of fish with friends and family, it’s very important to display catch and release practices in pictures even if the fish will be a guest at the dinner table because those who are new to fishing will see proper holding positions.

how to hold a grouper

Gary Shaw holding a very nice grouper caught from shore in Sanibel, FL.

This article will cover the top 5 features of fish that we must always do our very best to protect.

And we’ll also cover best practices for getting the perfect picture to be able to share the catch with friends and family without causing harm to the fish.

5 Essential Parts Of The Fish To Protect

The following five parts of the fish are what we much focus our attention towards when handling a fish that is going to be released.

Because if any of them get compromised, they’ll have a hard time surviving after release.

how to hold a salmon

Matt Slack holding a salmon he caught in Pulaski, NY.

1. Gills

It is absolutely essential to make every effort to not touch or harm a fish’s gills when handling it.


Because harm done to these important tissues can result in a quick death for the fish because all fish rely on their gills to breathe.

Things to Do

  1. Use in-line circle hooks with fishing with live or cut bait because they are much less likely to gill or gut hook a fish
  2. Always be attentive to the rod when fishing so that to feel for strikes so that you can set the hook before it’s too deep
  3. Make sure that you keep your fingers and tools from touching the gills when unhooking a fish

Things to Not Do

  1. Never hold a fish by the gills
  2. Never stick pliers (or fingers) in through the gills to access a deep hook… just cut the line because the hook will rust out
  3. Don’t wait too long before setting the hook after feeling a bite
how to hold a snook

Larry Strickland holding a nice snook caught in Tampa, FL.

2. Skin

Although the fish’s skin doesn’t seem to get as much focus in terms of things to protect, it surely shouldn’t be overlooked.

Especially as more and more chemicals from stormwater runoff enters our fisheries…


Because their skin is their core defense against harmful bacteria, parasites, and/or chemicals that are in the water.

And any loss to their “slime” on the outer layer or to their scales can put them at risk of a slow death from getting infected or poisoned.

Things to Do

  1. Pre-wet everything that will touch the first before it touches the fish (dip hands in water, splash water on deck of boat/kayak, dip landing net all the way into the water before netting the fish, etc.)
  2. Make sure to have all needed items for holding, taking a picture, and unhooking a fish in close proximity so it’s all easily and quickly accessible allowing for a smooth and quick release.
  3. Use a fish grip to secure the head of the fish so that you can minimize the needed touch area of the fish (and so it doesn’t slide around you or the boat if it continues fighting.

Note: If using a landing net, make sure it has a rubber lining on its netting (NO rope webbing)

Things to Not Do

  1. NEVER use a cloth rag to grab ahold of the fish that is going to be released
  2. Don’t bring a fish that you’re going to release in too quickly… better to spend more time reviving at the end than bringing an uncontrollable fish into a boat/kayak or onto the beach where it can lose lots of slime coating.
  3. Don’t rub a fish against dry clothing when taking a picture… get help from someone else if unable to hold the fish with just two hands or get in the water for a really cool pic.
how to hold a black drum

Chris Clark holding a big black drum caught in Crystal River, FL.

3. Jaw

A fish with an injured jaw will have a very tough time capturing its food.

And although a fish with an injured jaw may very well swim away energetically when released, an injury to its jaw could result in the fish being unable to feed making it unable to survive.

Things to Do

  1. Use extreme care to not force the entire weight of a big fish by its jaw
  2. Take out hooks with the fish’s body either in the water or securely resting on a wet surface on your boat/kayak/etc.
  3. Use a fish grip to securely hold onto the jaw so your other hand can more easily be used to support its midsection

Things to Not Do

  1. Don’t hold a big fish vertically by the jaw
  2. NEVER torque the jaw in an effort to horizontally hold a fish by its jaw
  3. Don’t use barbed hooks (especially treble hooks) while catch and release fishing (push down barbs with pliers and replace treble hooks with single hooks on lures that come with treble hooks).
how to hold a striper

Nick Lytle holding an impressive striper caught in Navarre, FL.

4. Internal Organs

Fish are designed to thrive underwater in a mostly horizontal position, and their internal organs are set up to help them thrive in that same environment.

So the internal organs of some species can get compromised when they are held vertically when out of the water since they simply were not designed to withstand gravity in that position (especially the bigger/older fish).

Things to Do

  1. Take care to not hold fish in the air vertically
  2. Use two hands to pick up a large fish so that you can support its mid-section

Things to Not Do

  1. NEVER hold a large fish up in the air vertically by its jaw (it can harm both its jaw and internal organs)
  2. Do not squeeze a fish with a lot of force in order to keep it securely held since that can cause damage to internal organs too.
how to hold a redfish

Tim Graul with a nice redfish caught while kayak fishing in Vero Beach, FL.

5. Eyes

Fish heavily rely on sight to feed and stay out of trouble, so we always need to be very mindful to not damage their eyes in any way.

Things to Do

  1. Take care to not allow anything sharp or rough to tough/scrape their eyes

Things to Not Do

  1. NEVER hold a fish that is going to be released by its eye sockets
how to hold a sheepshead

Kat Armstrong holding a big sheepshead caught in Ochlockonee Bay, FL.

How To Take Great Pictures Of Your Catch

Capturing a great picture of a great catch is can be almost as rewarding as the catch itself…

Not only will it enable you to relive the awesome experience for many years to come from just looking at the picture, but it also can be a tremendous tool to help you share the joy of your catch with any friends and family members who weren’t fortunate enough to have been there to see the catch firsthand.

Plus, a great picture will ensure that there are no skeptics to your story of the big catch:)

how to hold a tripletail

Drew Ouzts and his brother Ben holding an impressive Tripletail caught off Apalachicola, FL.

Photo Taking Tips If Fishing With Others

Nothing is worse than having the best catch of your life not captured on film due to photographer error…

So if you’re going to be fishing with friends, make sure to have your camera in an easy to find location… and be ready to give specific directions to a friend on exactly how to use your camera if they don’t have a camera of their own.

how to hold a kingfish

Jim Howell holding a kingfish caught when fishing with friends off Gulf Shores, AL.

Here are some general things to keep in mind when taking fish pics:

  1. Make sure that you and/or your fish are facing into the sun/light so that all colors are as clear and bright as possible
  2. Have your friend check the background to include or exclude items as needed (secret fishing location, even horizon, etc.)
  3. Take multiple pics in case any eyes were closed

Also, it also can be fun to get creative with angles to make a catch look better than it otherwise would…

For example, here’s a picture of a really small snook that I typically would not even consider taking a picture with. But I was fishing with a great photographer who was able to turn the not so great catch into an awesome photo.


This picture is an example how a unique photo angle can turn a small catch into a treasured photograph.

Photo Taking Tips If Fishing Alone

Now that cameras are so small and user-friendly, it’s now fairly easy for you to be able to take excellent pictures of you with your catch without the help of anyone else…

It just takes some planning…

First, get to learn what features your camera has for taking delayed pictures or video footage.

Note: If your camera takes crisp video, then you’ll be able to pull the exact perfectly timed image from the video feed.


Here’s a cool tarpon jumping pic that I pulled from GoPro footage that I never would have dreamed to be able to capture from a single-shot photo.

Secondly, plan what sort of angle you want to capture and then make sure to set up some way to safely hold your camera in the right spot so that it can capture the image without getting lost.

For example,  here’s the very basic setup that Tony Acevedo uses to take his awesome pictures while fishing alone from a kayak.


Tony’s great pics are taken from just mounting his iPhone 6+ on a basic mount in front of his kayak while using its timer feature.

Finally, make sure to store your camera in an easily accessible location so that you can efficiently get it when the need arises.

Note: I recommend practicing a few times before on the water to make sure to get any bugs or inefficiencies out on dry land before it gets more difficult on the water.

how to hold a flounder

Ben Sweat showing that it’s possible to take cool pics with fish while balancing on a paddle board in St. Pete, FL.

Catch, Photo, and Release Fishing Equipment

Here’s 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 so that you can ensure the fish can’t accidentally get dropped while also decreasing the amount of area that is needed to touch a fish.

Needle-Nose Pliers: These are essential to have while fishing because they allow you to efficiently unhook a fish even if it’s hooked fairly deep and has a small mouth.

De-hooker: This is another essential 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 (amazingly nice in some instances), a waterproof phone case can help ensure that your camera doesn’t get ruined by getting wet (I’m sad to report that I learned the importance of a good waterproof case hard way).

Camera Mount: If you fish along and want to get great pics of your catches, then it is wise to get a camera mount so that you can safely and efficiently take pictures of you and your catch. Click here to see some awesome pictures that our kayak instructor Tony Acevedo has taken.

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… watch the video in this linked post to learn more about ventilation best practices.


Phillip Brown from Tampa, FL displaying some cool photo editing work to make such an awesome looking picture.


Since fishing is more than just fishing, we need to do all that we can to help ensure that our fisheries are as well cared for as possible.

So we need to consistently implement catch and release best practices to ensure that the fish we release can thrive.

And just as importantly, we need to display those best practices so that those who are less experienced can see the proper way to care for fish.

Furthermore, it’s on us to share proper catch and release practices with others who haven’t been informed of the potential deadly harm they can be unknowingly doing to their beloved catches.

Message to the “Fish Police”

fish police

No one likes “fish police” commenting on every single catch…

Please be kind and courteous to those who post pictures in social media with poorly held fish…

Because 99% of the time, they have no idea that they could be causing harm to their catch… if they did, they most certainly wouldn’t be posting pictures of themselves harming fish online for all to see and scold them for.

When not 100% certain of bad intentions, go with the honest mistake assumption because it’s most likely going to be right… name calling and public shaming makes the entire fishing community look bad.

We’re all in it together, so let’s continually focus on pulling anglers up vs. pushing them down.

How To Kindly Inform Others:

Help spread the best practices for catch, photo, and release fishing when you see that there is a need.

If it’s an online post, then perhaps kindly send them a link to this article (or any others that you feel are helpful) and simply say that it has some valuable tips at efficiently practicing catch, photo, and release fishing.

P.S. – If you think your angler friends or fishing networks would like to see this to help spread the cause, then please Tag them or Share this with them. You Rock! Pa-POW!

Related Posts:

Final Note: If there are any inaccuracies in this post or other important things to consider when handling a fish that is to be released, then kindly use the comment section below to play a part in helping us all better care for our beloved fisheries… I’ll gladly make any needed adjustments to it at any time so that it’s as helpful as possible.

In the meantime, let’s see more fish being released as healthy and strong as they were prior to being caught.

how to catch redfish

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Ross Henderson
7 days ago

Great Article.I learned a lot and hadn’t thought about most of these points. Will definitely do a better job at protecting the fish I catch. Thanks!

Michael Ortega
1 month ago

Well put, great article and FACTS!

Bear Carter
9 months ago

The article was extremely helpful to all anglers.
To make it even MORE anglers, especially those in local club tournaments, how about an article for CPR where photos are taken and measured for LENGTH instead of weight. Pictures are taken accurately with the use of a portable MEASUREING stick and the fish is quickly released. There is no waiting to have the fish weighed, ( and possibly having the fish die).
The picture is sent back to a central location, instead of waiting for an official “weigh-in”.
All fish can be released – properly, hopefully, and we maintain our fisheries.
With all your resources you could investigate the best resources for accomplishing this – economically for local fishing clubs.
Most sources, at this time, can be quite expensive in the end.

How about YOUR ORGANIZATION setting up such a service. Now THAT would be a GREAT article. Consider how your ORGANIZATION may benefit. I would bet membership would grow ten fold.

Herb Carter
9 months ago

Having someone “PROOFREAD” the article would be both helpful to the final reader and show the expertise of the writer.
The article itself was exceptionally GREAT , but proofreading, (and correcting the minor mistakes), would have made it eceptional.
I THOROUGHLY believe in CPR, ( catch, photograph and release ), and would really appreciate a final, corrected copy of this article for distribution to our local club, ( 6k members ).
Thank you, Herb Carter, Flagler Sportfishing Club

Steven Thomas
9 months ago

Question on holding trout…is there any issue with sliding the the side of a finger underthe gill plate slightly? Similar to Tony’s picture at the top. I always seem to struggle with hanging on to trout and tend to get part of a finger gently under the gill plate. Thanks!

Jack Lewis
10 months ago

Great article, thanks for posting!

Andrew Rollins
1 year ago

This is great general information. Do you have a video or more information on barotrauma releases?

Doug Grall
Doug Grall
1 year ago

I may have missed this but you didn’t cover the best way to get the fish from the water if your in a boat. Should we use a net to keep the fish from going vertical? I know nets are bad for the skin but need your input for this method. Thanks

Manny falu
Manny falu
1 year ago

Just by reading all this I learned a couple new thing on fish handling n proper release forms. Thanks for sharing this I’ll be sure u pass this along.

Nate Cross
Nate Cross
1 year ago

Excellent information in here! I thought I was relatively well informed and a responsible catch-n-release angler, but I see now that I can (and will) be doing more from now on. Tight lines (and healthy releases) to you all.

John Aristei
1 year ago

Great information ! Two addendums: 1. Some larger species are legally protected to prevent death caused by removal from the water. Florida law requires Tarpon over 40″ to remain in the water during release. CPR Sailfish are Federally protected from removal from the water. One should check local regs to see which species are protected. 2. Time is of essence for CPR. Turn on cameras, and video recorders, wet bump boards and ready hook removal plans prior to removing fish out of the water to expedite the process.

Ken Johnston
1 year ago

Just a great article. Perfect in every way. Catch and release for our sport’s future.

Jason Wells
1 year ago

Good information! Thanks

Ken Johnston
2 years ago

Thanks for this great article. We are the protectors of our sport and we are the ones who will see that our kids and grandkids get the same chance to fall in love with fishing as we did. Please release the majority of your catch, you will feel good about it as it becomes the norm.

Eric Black
2 years ago

Good, helpful article. Thanks!

Cleve Carpenter
2 years ago

WOW!!!! It wasn’t until recently that my wife and I found out that we were holding our catch for pics completely wrong.
We were wondering why we didn’t get good results on releases. Now we know. Thanks

Mario Tremblay
3 years ago

Great reading! I am a fisherman in Quebec Canada and I am always trying to learn more on how to safely release fish. This is probably one of the best articles I have read so far! Thank you for making it and keep up the great work! I have a question. I have freekently heard that fish grips are very bad for a fish’s jaw? Because of the way they are made, they can injure permanently the fish. I have persenaly never used a fish grip, but these sayings are from peaple who have used them. What do you make of this? Would it be because they are using them the wrong way?

Thank you.

P.S. I hope my anglish is not to bad, I am french…

3 years ago
Reply to  Luke Simonds

Hello Luc,

Thank you for your response. It is much more clear to me how to use fish grips. I will probably by a pair and try them soon.

By the way, is it possible to order your products and have them ship to Canada?



Kat Armstrong
3 years ago

Nice surprise to see my Catch in this article!! I even learned more about keeping the fish safe before release (or not) I always apologize as I remove the hook. Thanks guys!!

Lara DeLorenzo-Sims
3 years ago

Thank you for the great article on safe catch and release fishing. I am a novice fisherman, so I really appreciate the information that you share with this community. I look forward to the articles and videos.

Ken Johnston
3 years ago

Here is a weird release question. Anyone fishing the Indian River Lagoon knows that the dolphins are definitely as smart as we are. They quietly observe our boats and are ready for that easy meal. Don’t mind feeding them a jack or two but really hate to release any undersized trout, red or snook when they are lurking about. Do you guys have any tricks to protect released fish from these guys. It is cool to see them explode on a fish, just not a game fish. Thanks again.

Ken Johnston
3 years ago
Reply to  Luke Simonds

We do try to release in structure and hope the fish will snuggle up in there for a while. If no structure around try to get as shallow as possible and very quietly release the fish. Works sometimes. Getting skunked works too.

Edward Rich
3 years ago
Reply to  Ken Johnston

Dress them little guys in puffer costumes before you release them?

Ken johnston
3 years ago
Reply to  Edward Rich

Good idea, I will check Amazon to see if they carry them.

Ken Johnston
3 years ago

Super job. I was a bit critical previously of photos by members showing species limits on docks and tables. This is a great article on how to treat these fish we treasure. All of us, yeah, even a catch and release guy like me, can use a refresher on proper fish handling. You guys are a real asset to the recreational fishing community.

Frank Romano
3 years ago

I am 72 years old and new to fishing in SW FL. I’ve been fishing nearly all my life. Salt Strong produces such intelligent information, it is the only email I read regularly, and fully, and save to refer back to whenever I feel the need to refresh my memory about something I read. Many years ago I used to write a fishing column for a NJ newspaper. I wish I was as informative as you guys, I might still be doing it. I learned a great deal from this particular email. I was surprised at myself how much I didn’t know about the preservation of life in a release. I hope you keep up the great work and I hope one day to see you on the water so I can thank you in person.

2 years ago
Reply to  Luke Simonds

Luke – It’s not a big thing, but can my name be changed to Rich for these posts. Tried through the web site, but can’t seem to do it. Thanks

2 years ago
Reply to  Frank Romano

I would advise you to join the Insiders Club if you have not already done so. It gets you much more in the way of information and interesting videos. It’s definitely worth the price of admission. Also look into some of the great Courses offered by Salt Strong

Roger Jeffery
3 years ago

Good information! Thank you

3 years ago

Awesome article!

Alan Spolar
3 years ago

Great article on a much needed topic of learning. You guys rock!

John Mizak
3 years ago

By far the best post since joining the Salt Strong community. All of the knowledge shared on catching fish is useless if well-intentioned CPR fisherman mishandle their catch and it doesn’t survive.

Jim Jacobus
3 years ago

A great read Luke and very informative. There is always something to learn regarding smart catch and release techniques.