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Socially Acceptable Fish Handling

Published: 19th May 2021 | Author: Dave McCoy

We’ve been down this path before, though if you are young enough maybe you haven’t experienced it.  

A few decades ago, as an industry we began the slow, arduous task of framing catch and release fishing as an acceptable practice. Without social media, it was a slow turning ship but eventually the idea of having fish to catch again and maybe seeing them grow took hold. States began to regulate certain waters as C&R, only to protect the resource for the public as they saw the benefit to tourism by having quality fisheries maintain more or less a status quo. 

Well, we have once again arrived at a moment in our sport where we have a new practice we are trying to implement: keeping fish in the water if release is intended. Let’s talk about socially acceptable fish handling.

It’s important to talk about socially acceptable fish handling practices in the world of catch and release.

Keeping Fish Wet

This should make sense to most people so I want to keep it pretty simple. Imagine sprinting a 400 meter race and right at the finish line, someone held your head underwater. We can’t take our oxygen from the water and fish don’t extract theirs from the air.  

I don’t want to delve into the science supporting this, but rather propose some ideas for how to safely land, handle and photograph your prize catch to share with all in a way that helps spread the idea of keeping fish wet. Maybe we’ll do away with fish flop Friday…here are a few things to keep in mind before we get to how to photograph your fish.

Barbless hooks also help when releasing fish unharmed. Check out our range here!

Landing Your Fish

Land your fish in deep water so head doesn’t bang against rocks.

Always wet your hands and make a taco shell out of your hand. Hold the fish just behind the pectoral fin with no thumb over the top. By holding hand fish in this way, you give a more appealing arc to the the fish’s body, as opposed to it looking long and snakey.  Also, on larger fish, hold the tail with palm facing the camera, people want to see the fish not the back of your hand. Allow the tail to rest where the natural arc of the fish places it.

An example of how to properly hold a fish. Make a “taco shell” with your hand.

Hook release tools are great assistants, especially if you’re new to trying to remove a fly while keeping fish in the water. Homemade ones are very easy to make with a little chunk of hanger wire and a nicely sanded stick.

Use a net with a rubber basket, and one that’s big enough to allow the fish to rest fully extended when submerged. Then you can use the net to handle the fish so your hands don’t have to be in contact with it. 

Using nets with rubber baskets that are large enough for the whole fish are key.

Taking Photos With Your Phone

Let’s begin with your phone, which actually has a pretty good camera if it is newer that 5 years old. It’s certainly good enough for a few likes on Instagram. So, here are few ideas to help capture images with your phone.  

The safest and easiest shot to take is a simple, directly above capture or a slow motion release video. These are easy without too much possibility of dropping the phone.  

If you are out on your own and want to be in the picture with your catch, turn your phone to selfie mode, get down on your knees in deeper water and extend that phone out there away from you close to water level and snap away. I will admit having longer arms make for a better assist in these instances.

Add an additional level of creativity with your phone and pick up an after-market lens option to provide a wide angle or fish-eye perspective. This can help in selfie mode as well.

The capture from above on a cell phone is a great way to get an awesome image of your fish.

Using A GoPro

A GoPro type camera is also a great option if you are trying to inexpensively scratch that creative itch. Obviously its waterproof, but it can shoot such high res, fast videos that it’s easy to just film a release and take a screen shot you enjoy or pull a frame from burst mode.  

Admire Your Fish

Admire your fish in your images. We are looking at the fish too, so pay homage to the beautiful specimen in front of you. Look closely at some of the more intricate details such as spots on the eyes, translucent tail or fin colors, scales, teeth or anything else which really makes that fish unique. They all have something that sets them apart.

There is so much beauty in the detail of every fish you catch. Focusing on that is a great way to get great images while also practicing acceptable fish handling.

Use clear water to your advantage. Use the angle of the sun to penetrate the water and shoot through it, there is no better way to see a fish than in its natural environment.  Close up shots, release shots or hold it on its side and allow a profile to be seen through the water, sometimes abstract captures with a bit of moving water over it make incredible photos.

A close up shot is hard to beat.

Whether on top of the water or under it, I always look to capture a reflection in the images to add to those details surrounding the fish when looking through the lens.

The adios capture is so underrated.  I love seeing the residual of a fish swimming away, leaving a net, or splashing tail water in the face of angler.  These tell a more compelling story than the grip and grin.  

The adios capture.

Create A Shot List

This may sound a tad confident but before heading out to the water you should create a shot list.  Nothing will expedite better images and a quick releases than knowing ahead of time what you want to shoot. This is also where having that net large enough for a fish to rest in can buy you a bit of time to briefly discuss or coach someone on how to better hold the fish in the photo or where to hold the camera for taking a picture of you.

Underwater Photography

Finally, if you are fully vested in keeping fish in the water, let’s talk about shooting underwater. This is what led me into photography, mostly from seeing what Brian O’Keefe was putting out in the 90’s with his Nikonos camera.  

With regards to your phone, if it isn’t waterproof, get a case so that it can be. There are a few options out there from Lifeproof, AquaTech and several in between. Much like fly fishing, you can spend a little or a lot, so check your wallet first!

There’s nothing better than watching a healthy fish swim away. Socially acceptable fish handling will help make sure your fish swim away without any problems.

When I bought my first underwater housing for my Canon film camera, my dad told me he had not raised me very well. He said that this was maybe one of the worst ideas of how to spend a couple thousand dollars he had ever seen. 

Well, I didn’t learn from that either because I am on my 5th housing and countless bodies to go in it. If you have a small chunk of coin laying around, this will, I swear to you, make the choice between fly rod or camera a difficult one make.  

If you want practice socially acceptable fish handling, a water housing will never let you down.

Understanding Light

I realize this is a lot to absorb, but I would be remiss not to mention understanding where the light is in favor for your pictures. I’m not going into great detail here but at the very least don’t cast a shadow on your fish.

Understanding light is key to capturing quality images.

As spring begins to turn to summer and more of us are out there hitting the water, take a few of these suggestions into consideration both to capture better photos, and for the well-being of your fish.  

Have fun everyone, keep those fish wet and let them be the hero!

Do you want to read more about responsible fish handling? Check out our recent blog article by Keep Fish Wet.

Dave owns Emerald Water Anglers in Seattle, WA. Head on over to his website to learn more about what he has to offer!

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