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Best Practices: General Guidelines for Safely Releasing your Fish

FishSmart Best Practices are general guidelines for safe release of your fish. They are the product of FishSmart Workshops and information posted on State, Federal, and nonprofit websites.

Plan Ahead

  • Expect to release fish on any given trip and prepare the equipment necessary to do so. Know your fishing regulations.


  • Develop skills to target the size and species you desire.
  • Catch & release is ok, but if catching too many fish that you cannot, or do not want to keep, change the depth that you are fishing, move to a different area, or use different bait.

Appropriate Gear

  • Use gear suited to the size of fish that you are trying to catch including the size of hooks that catch fish that you want but not others.
  • Use circle hooks where recommended and be aware that fishing techniques are different from “J” style hooks.

Landing Fish

  • Don’t play fish to exhaustion.
  • Use line strength to minimize playing time.
  • Land the fish as quickly as possible.
  • If possible, leave them in the water rather than bringing them out of the water.

Handling Fish

  • Use knotless rubberized landing nets and rubberized gloves, to avoid removing the slime layer from their body.
  • Keep the fish horizontal; support the body when lifting large fish.
  • DON’T DROP THE FISH onto hard surfaces or long distances! This causes great harm.

Releasing Fish

  • If needed, use a release tool (dehookers, recompression tools) to minimize handling and successfully release your catch.

Time is of the essence!

  • Release fish as soon as practical and do not keep them out of the water longer than necessary.
  Continue with Best Practices for Releasing Deepwater Fish


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