5 Tips for Catch and Release Fly Fishing

Written by: Patrick BlackdaleWillowfly Anglers


Protecting a trout after you’ve brought it to the next can help ensure that it survives to fight another day.
Photos by Patrick Blackdale

Few things are more exciting that catching a big fish, but it’s important that you keep your head at the point when that fish is most vulnerable. Keeping our fisheries healthy and thriving is a team effort that begins with anglers on the stream. Science has proven that catch-and-release fishing can produce high survival rates–but only if good C&R protocols are performed properly. Here are five tips to ensure healthy releases.

  1. Beef up your tackle. Use tackle that is heavy enough to play a fish quickly without exhausting it. Extremely light tackle may seem sportier, but it usually isn’t necessary and ends up causing excessively long fights. Always try to bring the fish to net as quickly as you can.

  2. Keep the fish in the net as much as possible–while you remove the hook and wait for your buddy to get the camera ready.
  3. Go Barbless. Whether you buy flies or tie your own, pinching down the barb of the hooks before they make it into your fly box is a great habit. A barbless hook comes out of a fish in the net (or your shirt) with ease, eliminating time-consuming fly retrieval. This allows you to remove hooks quickly with a hemostat without even handling the fish.
  4. Keep ’em wet. Imagine running a mile and then holding your breath immediately after crossing the finish line. This is what a trout goes through if you remove it from the water after netting the fish. Trout need to remain in the water to revive from the trauma of the fight.
  5. Photos: make them quick! Keep the fish submerged in the net until the camera and photographer are in place and ready to snap the photo. Wet your hands gently, cradling the fish by the belly and the “wrist” of the tail. Do not squeeze the fish, and don’t touch the delicate gills, mouth, or eyes . Simply hold the fish up quickly for a photo and return it to the water. The fish should not be out of the water for more than five seconds.

  6. The Keep ‘Em Wet ethos can help us maintain healthy fisheries into the future.
  7. Revive the fish slowly. Gently hold the fish facing upstream in a mellow current. Wait for the fish to swim out of your hands under its own power. Don’t move the fish vigorously forward and back, as this does not allow the gills to function properly.

With more and more people fly fishing around the country, it is more imperative than ever to practice these techniques. Hopefully with these easy tips you will feel more confident in releasing healthy fish back into the river to be caught another day!

Patrick Blackdale is the Assistant Outfitting Manager and a fly fishing guide at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, Colorado. Willowfly Anglers is the guide service at Three Rivers Resort.

9 thoughts on “5 Tips for Catch and Release Fly Fishing”

  1. Would you please guide me to a scientific study that documents the difference in survival of released fish with barbed and barbless hooks.

      1. After going through the studies, it appears that there is little if any difference in mortality between barbed and barbless hooks. It seems to me if someone wishes to use barbless hooks there is nothing I’m aware of that would keep them from doing so. Imposing barbless regulations on those who choose to use barbed hooks seems unwarranted. Absent convincing scientific evidence of a significant difference there are vastly more important issues to which the barbed/barbless debate energy might directed.

        1. real outdoorsmen are self sufficient and do things on their own. Real fisherman don’t need barbs to catch fish.
          Once you get good you will be able to type “barbless hooks study” into Google. When you get good at fishing you can use barbless hooks. Practice makes perfect and we know you can do it!!

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