How to hold your catch (and how not to!)

So, you were on the road and in the water before most folks had their morning coffee. You spotted the structure, read the conditions, adapted your approach and finally grabbed that photo-worthy Trophy Fish. Time to strike a pose right?

Well, sort of. Before you immortalize this moment with a click and caption, be sure to know how to hold or position your catch. Different species have different body types and anchor points. We've summarized the proper holding techniques so you can always look like a pro.

Bass

Due to the unique shape of a bass, most of their weight is front-midline. Many seasoned anglers make the mistake of thinking bass when held by their rigid jawline, can support a variety of positions. This just is not true and the common horizontal holding technique can render the jaw useless to the fish leaving them dead in the water after release. The safest way to hold your catch is a vertical presentation by the lower lip. If you desire the horizontal hold position then be sure to support the full weight of the fish before placing it in the horizontal position to minimize the jaw stress.

Walleye (Pickerel)

Sharp teeth and an even sharper dorsal fin mean these beauties have to be handled with care. For the smaller catch, a firm grip under the gills from on top of the head will be more than enough and also allow you to keep the dorsal fin depressed (shown here).

Proper walleye hold technique for small catch 

Photo: Northern Ontario Travel

With larger walleye, the only truly safe way to hold is by placing a firm grip on the tail (just ahead of the fin) and supporting the weight with a hand on the underside. These tips apply to angler and walleye alike as the gill plate is easily damaged on large fish given the weight and stress while the dorsal fin and teeth can injure if not properly handled.

Perch

Perch are small but mother nature equipped them with a strong set of dorsal fin spikes as well which means you always need to handle with care. Additionally, many anglers think that small fish can simply be lifted by hook or line. This technique can hurt the fish as mouth and jaw structures, while small, are relative to the size of the fish and are not meant to support its weight. 

The proper technique is to rub from head towards the tail over the dorsal fin in order to depress the spiked structure. Once depressed, wrap your hand firmly from the fish's back around its belly with a firm grip. Remove the hook, snap your picture and move on. Or move the fish to the live well. Either way, treat these little guys and all fish with respect while alive.

Pike and Muskellunge

These are powerful and majestic fish. They deserve to be treated as such. Similar to Walleye, it's best to avoid their mouth as they have rows of razor sharp teeth. However this has led to sloppy handling as some anglers handle the gills instead of the gill plate resulting in damage to the vital systems that allow these and all fish to breath. Additionally, due to the size of these fish, unsupported weight held from the gill plate can still result in injury and death for the fish.

Because of the cleaning challenges of the pesky Y bones a needless injury often leads to a slow death for the fish without a single scrap of meat being eaten. 

The proper technique is to hold horizontally, from the gill plate with strong support of the belly to relieve pressure on the head.

Trout 

For smaller trout, cradling underneath the fish behind the gill plate, near the pectoral fins, should be sufficient. Do not squeeze this area as there are a lot of vital organs that can be easily damaged. Also, avoid fingers under the gill plate and never touch the gills!

Similarly with larger trout, with one hand, cradle the fish from underneath by the pectoral fins and with the other hand, grip onto the tail, just beyond the tail fin. The tail area of the fish is very rigid as there is just bone and flesh.

It is also important to note that unlike most species of fish, trout lack rigid scales which means less outer protection. Because of this, always handle trout with wet hands to keep a barrier between the fish's skin and your hands. This keeps their delicate protective slime coating intact and prevents unnecessary damage to the fish. Dry hands will remove the protective coating and may cause the fish to be more susceptible to infections.

 

And remember, whether your catching to release, or you've got the grill greased and ready to go, responsible anglers should always look to minimize the impact to the catch.

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