The Ministry of the Environment, Forestry and Parks (MELCCFP) encourages everyone to take part in recreational fishing while observing responsible practices. By following these tips, you can help ensure good-quality fishing for generations to come. Catch and release fishing is a popular recreational activity that allows anglers to keep and then immediately return fish to the water where they were caught, or if legally mandated by size or catch limits, to a different body of water. However, it’s important to note that not all fish caught and released will survive.
A few simple steps, including careful handling, can make a big difference in the survival rate of released fish. Despite the noble sentiment of catch-and-release, many anglers do not practice it properly. For example, it is common to see a fish grabbed by the gills or tail fin and then thrown back into the water. Unless done quickly and deliberately, this can lead to injury, sometimes even death for the fish. Many anglers also use a variety of methods when they’re trying to land a fish, which can increase the stress and potential for injury to the fish. This is especially true if the fish is being wrestled to the surface and then landed on a hard, dry surface, such as a boat deck or fishing platform. This can cause damage to internal organs and remove protective scales and the slime layer covering the skin. It can also result in the loss of gill rakers, which are essential to breathing and absorbing oxygen.
Another key factor contributing to fish mortality is the length of time they are held out of the water. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology found that, on average, around 10% of the fish that are caught and released die. This is partly due to improper hook removal and handling, but also because the fish can lose their ability to avoid predators if they’re kept out of the water for too long. Other factors affecting the survival of released fish include the size of the fish, where the hook was placed, how long the fish is played for, how fast it’s landed and handled, and water temperature. This is why it’s so important to always use appropriate gear and techniques matched to the fish species you are targeting, and to learn how to quickly and carefully land and handle your fish.
Catch and release is an important conservation tool and can be a great way to experience Montana’s wild waters. But it’s crucial to remember that not all fish are worthy of the effort and expense of catch-and-release fishing. Some fish should be kept and enjoyed, and some should be killed for food. It’s important to know when to do so and to understand why. Otherwise, you could be unknowingly contributing to the decline of a beautiful natural resource. For more information on responsible fishing and preserving Montana’s aquatic wildlife, please visit the MELCCFP website.