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Game and Fish

Release Fish the Right Way

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08/01/2012 - Catch and release has been a popular fishing practice for many years and is especially popular among those who enjoy fly fishing for trout.

But the low snowpack of last winter already has many streams in Wyoming running very low and clear more typical of conditions usually found in late summer. An example of the low flows this year is illustrated in recent measurements from several waters from different parts of the state. Last year, with extremely heavy runoff, the upper North Platte River on July 6 was measured at 10,300 cubic feet per second (cfs). This year on the same date, the flow was 128 cfs. Long term average for that date is 2,050 cfs. On the opposite end of the state, the Bear River near Cokeville was running at only 3.8 cfs as opposed to 3,700 cfs last year and a long term average of 350 cfs.

The drought situation has the effect of not only reducing flows, but also warming water temperatures. Less water means that rivers and streams warm more quickly, and where trout are concerned, warm water can place extra stress on the fish. That added stress can sometimes result in angler-caused mortality to the fish, but mortality can be minimized by following a few guidelines for playing, handling, and releasing fish.

"One of the most important things anglers can do is plan to do their fishing when the water is coolest," said Mike Snigg, Laramie region fisheries supervisor. "Water cools in the lower nighttime temperatures and the morning hours. The cooler the water, the easier it is for fish to recover after being caught."

Snigg said that warmer waters are especially prevalent in smaller streams and in river sections where there are no tail-water fisheries.

"With tail-water fisheries, water is coming from the bottom of a dam where temperatures are typically cooler," Snigg said. "But, even in tail-waters, anglers are advised to follow standard catch-and-release practices to minimize stress on the fish."

Fish that are to be released should be played and landed as rapidly as possible to reduce exhaustion stress. This means that anglers may wish to choose heavier tippet or leader sections so they can play the fish more quickly and get it back in the water in a timely manner.

Careful handling of the fish can also reduce mortality. Fish should not be squeezed and anglers should take care to keep their fingers away from the gills. A landing net is helpful in handling a fish and facilitates getting the hook out quickly. Anglers may also consider using barbless hooks as the hook is much easier to remove, which minimizes the handling of the fish and the time the fish is out of the water. Regular hooks can be made barbless by flattening the barb with a pair of pliers.

Once the fish is caught, you can revive it by holding it gently in an upright position with the fish facing upstream in fairly calm water. Move the fish slowly back and forth to get water moving though the gills. You can then release the fish in quiet water after it has regained its strength and is able to swim from your grip.

Anglers who usually use bait may consider using artificial flies or lures if they plan on releasing fish. Fish caught with artificial lures are five to ten times more likely to survive when released.

Information on procedures for releasing fish alive is also found on page 13 of the fishing regulations available at WGFD license agents or online at wgfd.wyo.gov.


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