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WV Wildlife: Proper Catch & Release Fishing

Always try to wet your hands before handling any fish. This will keep their outer slime layer intact, which can help protect against disease. (WCHS/WVAH)

It's almost a fact--fishing is fun!

No matter where you cast a line, or whatever for, the anticipation of hooking one never seems to go away.

For our friends and family to keep enjoying this outdoor sport in the future, though, we need to protect the resource; that's why properly catching and releasing fish is so important.

Jeff Hansbarger, a fisheries biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, says you have the right to keep some fish--but if you’re catching and releasing, there are some things to remember.

"We always want people to keep according to the regulations if you want to, but if you don't--if you're like me and want to catch and release fish, and let them fight another day--there are a couple steps. One of the first things is you want to be ready. You want to have maybe something on hand that you can remove the hook with. With muskies and larger fish, you definitely want to have things on hand--it can get pretty hectic pretty quickly. And also--before you touch fish, you want to wet your hands. You want to be really careful about touching the fish and removing its slime layer; that's what helps protect it from different pathogens in the water", said Hansbarger.

This special care is especially important during warmer temperatures, when fish can get stressed out easier.

"It's very important to not have it spend much time out of the water. You need to be ready like I said and have the equipment with you, and return it to the water as quick as you can", said Hansbarger.

Cool or cold-water fish, like Walleye or Trout, can especially be impacted by the hotter temperatures outside in the summertime. Hansbarger explains how to handle.

"We have a Sauger right here--this is a cool-water fish and as you can see, it's really nice. It's a common fish that's caught below our locks and dams, and you want to be really careful--I wet my hands before I touch it and try to keep it out of the water as little as possible, and then let it go”

Sometimes, placing a fish back isn't quite that easy, though.

"You may hook it deeper. And one of the things as an angler, when you're using soft plastics for example--they have a tendency to eat the actual lure and will eat it down into their stomach. And one of the things you can do is train yourself to set the hook a little earlier. And if you do happen to have one that's hooked deeply, take your time and really carefully remove that hook", said Hansbarger.

As long as you follow the rules and regulations, you can keep your fish--but if you don't, make sure to get it back to the water safe and as soon as possible.

“You want to take great care because this is a great resource. Lee Wolf once said a game fish is too great to only be caught once, and that's the case--so you want to take utmost care, especially during these warmer temperatures in catching and releasing these fish", said Hansbarger.

Keep on Fishin’!

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