Everybody's idea of fish care will be a little different, but the end result should always be the same - to get your quarry back to its home undamaged and no worse for being caught.
Fish care starts in the tackle shop, where you should arm yourself with the essential items of equipment in order to protect your catch while it's out of its natural environment.
Before your baited hooks are cast out, do yourself and the fish a favour - set up your landing net and find a suitable flat, grassy (if possible) area for your unhooking mat.
Chose a site that is close to your swim but far enough away to give you room to move once the fish as been landed. Get your weigh sling, scales and camera ready.
Step 1 • Playing A Hooked Fish
When you hook a fish, take time and care when playing. Try not to bully the fish too much this can cause large hook holds and damage the fish's mouth permanently. We have all seen pictures of Carp caught with massively deformed mouths, caused mostly by anglers' hooks.
Once the fish has been played out to the point were you feel it can be landed, have your landing net to hand, sink the net, carefully draw the fish over the net with its nose towards the spreader block and carefully lift the net. Hey presto! Fish safely in the net!
Step 2 • Transporting & Unhooking The Fish
Now lift the net (not the pole, it's sure to break) and carefully lift the fish and net and walk steadly to your unhooking mat, being careful not to knock the fish on any bank-side dangers, wooden platforms, tackle boxes, bank sticks etc.
Gently place your capture onto a wet unhooking mat, locate the hook hold and carefully remove the hook using a suitable disgorger or forceps. Most of the time, when using barbless hooks, the hook will have removed itself in the net once the pressure on the line has been released.
Step 3 • Treating The Hook Hold
Once the hook, line and end tackle are all safely out of the way, find the hook hold (hopefully around the mouth area), take a dry towel and gently dry the area of the hook hold. Apply an antiseptic solution, such as Nash Medi Carp, to the area.
Take care not to let any of the liquid antiseptic treatment get too far into the mouth. Although this will not harm the fish, it may upset its stomach.
Step 4 • Checking The Fish For Damage
Take a minute to check the fish over for any signs of damage such as bleeding, missing scales, split fins, old hooks & rigs, parasites etc.
If any are found, carefully dry the immediate area, remove any foreign bodies found and treat the area in the same way as the hook hold with antiseptic solution. Treating hook holds and other damage to the fish will help prevent infection and aid healing.
Step 5 • Weighing The Fish
Wet down the weigh sling and carefully transfer the fish from mat to sling, always keeping the fish over the mat and close to the ground. In the event of the fish kicking and the grip on the fish being lost it will only drop a minimal distance and onto the soft mat below.
Once the fish is in the sling, check to see that all fins are flat to its body to prevent them being broken when lifted for the weigh in. Then gently lift the sling just enough to clear the mat and read the weight of your catch. Then place the fish back on the mat keeping it covered with the wet sling.
Step 6 • Photographing The Fish
Now it's time to take photos of your catch. Gently open up the sling, and with the belly side towards you, slide one hand from mouth to pectoral fin, and place a few fingers each side. Slide your other hand from tail to anal fin and place two fingers each side of the fish.
Then lift and tilt the fish to show the full side of the fish to the camera lens. Try to avoid lifting the fish too high. If it kicks and you lose grip it will drop a minimum distance back onto the mat.
Step 7 • Releasing The Fish
Once you have weighed and photographed your catch, return it to the weigh sling then find an area of bank to release the fish, which has easy access and is snag and weed free. Support the fish and sling in the water with your hands until the fish has recovered.
Make sure that it has a good flow of water to its mouth and that the gills are not constricted. When the fish is ready to go it will kick to indicate that it has recovered. Check to make sure the fish has got its bearings and isn't going to crash into a platform leg or reeds in the margins.
Step 8 • Kettle On, Job Done!
Now you can be pleased with yourself! You've caught a good fish and safely returned it back to its home with minimal upset and damage. Get your tackle sorted, chuck out another bait, then get your stuff ready for the next whoppa to tug your line!
I hope this piece has got you thinking about fish care and that you will put the above practices into action the next time you fish. Look after the fish you catch and they'll be there for you when they're even bigger, and will be fine lookers for all to catch for a long time.
Top Tips • The Right Tackle & Attitude
Here is a list of the basic requirements for any angler who cares about fish welfare.
1. Barbless hooks. They leave minimum damage in the way of hook holds and are removed much easier. 2. A suitable sized landing net. Large enough to land the biggest fish in the venue. 3. An unhooking mat. A must if you intend to fish for Carp, Tench, Barbel, Pike etc. Most venues insist on all anglers using unhooking mats.
4. Forceps or disgorgers. Carry a range to suit your hook sizes. 5. Antiseptic treatment. Medi Carp or a similar treatment. 6. Get it wet. Anything that will come into contact with the fish must be wet; unhooking mat, weigh sling, your hands etc. This will prevent the protective mucus on the fish's body from being removed.
7. Respect for all fish. Not something you can buy, but you should have the greatest respect for all the fish you catch, and do your very best to return them to their home in the condition they came to you in, or better.
Thanks for reading. Tight lines and big 'uns. Paul Jolliffe.
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Several of the Association's waters are near overhead power lines carrying up to 132,000 volts. These lines are within reach of rods and poles. Members must maintain a safe fishing distance and must NOT carry assembled rods or poles under these power lines. Always look up.
The next Annual General Meeting will be held on Monday 2nd October 2017 at Keynsham Cricket Club, 7:30pm prompt. All Members are eligible to attend.