Wildwood Outfitters Blog and Fishing Report
The thing about trout in a stream is that their number is pretty much finite at a given time. There might be a small degree of movement to and from tributaries, but generally speaking there are a certain amount of fish in a waterway at a particular moment. In the case of PA trout streams, some of those come from stocking by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, as well as trout clubs. With anglers spending more time than ever before on the water, it's safe to assume that 2020 is shaping up to see more pressure on our fish than in any season prior.
While folks know we are staunch proponents of catch and release for trout and steelhead, there is still mortality to consider among these fish. Studies have shown that even when handled correctly, some trout won't make it when released. Of course, there are things we do to try and limit the impact on caught fish but it's sometimes not enough. With that said, how anglers handle a caught trout goes a long way in keeping it alive and well for the next person to enjoy.
Ease Up On The Grip
The term "grip and grin" is usually thrown around in a derogatory manner by anglers poking fun at those taking pictures of their caught fish. At Wildwood Outfitters we are always 100% on board for taking pictures of the fish our guests catch, but there is something to be said for the way in which they're held. Never should our fingertips or palms be squeezing the fish in any way. A caught trout being released or held up for a picture should be gently cradled in the crease between our fingers and palms. Ideally, fingers would be pointed out away from the fish so as to not be putting any pressure on the fish itself. A trout shouldn't be held vertically for a picture (like a bass, with much stronger jaws, can). If this is happening, the fish is probably dead anyways.
Carry A Net
Many customers ask what is on the list of necessary gear for anglers just starting out. A long-handle net is always included along with the rod, reel, waders, etc. The net isn't there just to be another fancy accessory, but rather an extremely valuable tool to assist in not only landing trout, but keeping them safe. A trout should never be held up out of the water with the line out of its mouth. That's a popular social media picture, where an angler is holding the rod in one hand, the line in the other, and the fish is left dangling helplessly. This is dangerous for the fish for a number of reasons, not least of which is the damage that can be done to their fragile jaws. By corralling the fish in the net, we can keep it safe and secure while removing the hook, grabbing the camera for a picture, and finally releasing it back into the water.
Hands Away From The Gills
There's never a time when fingers, nets, rods, or any other object should be in, at, or near the gills of a trout or steelhead. This is the most vulnerable spot on a fish and damage done to this area means sure death. They should never be held up by the gills, or with fingers through the gills. Aside from being a death sentence for the fish, it also makes for a really unpleasant photo. The great thing about proper fish handling is it usually coincides with what makes for a good picture of your catch! Holding a fish gently in the crease of your hand makes for a much better picture than the one-finger-through-the-gills pose.
Trout and steelhead should always be handled with wet hands. Luckily, that can easily be achieved by keeping the fish in the net before snapping a photo or releasing it. By simply reaching your hands into the net and trying to cradle the fish out our hands will get wet, but for good measure anglers should dip their hands into the water before doing any of this. Dry hands can do quite a bit of damage to fish and it's a very easy thing to do to help them stay safe and be enjoyed again by someone else!
Have The Camera/Phone Ready
You'll never hear us say, "Don't take a picture of that one." There seems to be a new movement in fly fishing to avoid the hero shot, and stare at the fish without smiling. It's important to remember, what we're doing is supposed to be fun! It's okay to hold your fish (safely) and smile at the camera. After all, why would we do something if it didn't bring us joy? With that said, a caught fish should remain in the net and in the water without being touched until the camera is ready to roll. Once everything else is in position, the angler can lift the fish up for a few photos before a quick release. If done correctly the trout shouldn't be out of the water for more than a few seconds. Don't hold the fish out of the water and then fumble around for your phone to snap a picture. That's a critical time in the catch/release cycle that sometimes separates life from death for the fish.
Proper fish handling is more than just practicing good etiquette. It helps protect the resource that we all cherish so much and facilitates a higher quality picture showing off your catch! These few steps can go a long way in keeping trout and steelhead safe to be caught and enjoyed another day.
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