How to Catch the Big 3 Properly

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Catch and release has become an extremely important part of fisheries management.

Originating in the bass fishery where Ray Scott and B.A.S.S. found it necessary to propagate tournaments while promoting conservation it is now commonplace in saltwater.

Good information on proper catch-and-release for redfish, speckled trout and flounder has not always been easily available. I was recently involved in a project that detailed release plans for key species in Texas and throughout the country.

Kevin Walbrick caught and released this redfish he caught on Hanna’s Reef in Galveston Bay. The red was 40 inches long and weighed 24 pounds. Note the calm water in the middle of the bay. This was Kevin’s personal best red.

 

These are some of the findings on the Texas Gulf Coast’s “Big 3”.

Redfish: The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has an amazing and exhaustive set of details for releasing redfish. While their regulations are much different than those in Texas, they can help to properly conserve our wonderful redfish resource.

  1. Fish with non-offset circle hooks when fishing with live or natural bait. Bend the barbs down for even faster release times.
  2. Bring fish in quickly. Do not play fish to exhaustion.
  3. Release fish quickly. Do not keep fish out of water while you find your camera.

Releasing sub-adult red drum in shallow water:

  1. Use appropriate tackle (at least 12 lb test fishing line) and bring the fish in quickly. Fighting a fish to exhaustion may increase its possibility of dying.
  2. Use non-offset CIRCLE HOOKS. (We used Eagle Claw 4/0). This study has shown that circle hooks catch sub-adult red drum in the jaw over 90% of the time. Mortality is 1/5 of that with either offset circle hooks or J-hooks.
  3. Handle the fish only with wet hands. Use a release tool such as needle-nosed pliers to remove the hook from the mouth of the fish.
  4. If the point of the hook is lodged in the far back of the mouth or is beyond the crushing teeth in the back of the throat, leave the hook in place and cut the leader. A large proportion of these fish will survive.

Releasing adult red drum in deep water:

  1. Use appropriate tackle (at least 20 lb test line) and bring the fish in quickly. Remember, these fish are either in the act of spawning or have just recently spawned. This activity alone is EXTREMELY exhausting, and being caught on a hook adds extra stress to an already difficult time.
  2. Use non-offset CIRCLE HOOKS. (We used Eagle Claw 9/0 or 10/0). This study has shown that over 95 percent of adult red drum caught on Circle hooks are caught in the lip. Two-day mortality is half of what it is with J-hooks.
  3. Avoid fishing during the hottest part of the summer. Water temperatures can have a profound effect on whether a fish can revive after being caught.
  4. Handle the fish only with wet hands. Use a release tool such as needle-nosed pliers to remove the hook.
  5. Release the fish gently. If it is sluggish or floating upside down, allow it to rest for a few moments near the surface. GENTLY move it forward through the water to pass water over the gills. Most fish will regain enough strength to make it to the bottom within a minute or so.

Speckled Trout: The catch and strategies for speckled trout are essentially the same as those for largemouth bass, with one major difference. Trout are more delicate so special attention should be paid to several key points.

  1. When fishing for trophy trout remove barbs from hooks, especially when using lures with treble hooks.
  2. Hold trout of the water only long enough to snap a quick photo. It is essential to keep the fish in the water as long as possible.
  3. Avoid playing trout for long periods of time during the peak of summer. Light line may be fun to use but it can lead to epic fights which can lead to dead trout.
  4. Use specialized prizes or a Boca grip style device to “lip” the fish and avoid lifting it quickly from the water.

According to the journal of North American Fisheries Management, scientists investigated the mortality associated with catch and release in the fishery for spotted seatrout trout in south Texas.

“Specifically, this study investigated the mortality for hook-and-line-captured spotted seatrout as a function of bait type, hook type, angler skill level, and fish size. Using a variety of angling techniques, we captured 448 spotted seatrout ranging from 250 to 760 mm total length (TL) and assessed mortality in replicate field enclosures.”

“The overall short-term mortality for all treatments was relatively low (11 percent); of fish survived. The exception was angler skill level. Angling by novices produced a significantly higher mortality rate than angling by skilled anglers; however, mortality averaged only 18 percent even for inexperienced anglers. To evaluate long-term mortality, we monitored 27 spotted seatrout held in a laboratory facility for 30 days. We observed 11 percent mortality during the first 48 hours and no mortality during the subsequent 28 days.”

“The location of hook-related injuries may be the most important factor in determining catch-and-release mortality. Anatomical hooking location was not a factor in the analyses but was treated as a component of experimental treatment level; however, we observed that mortality was typically associated with hooking location rather than angling method or bait type. These data suggest that management options involving the release of spotted seatrout, including those larger than 635 mm total length, are viable tools.”

Flounder: Flounder are my forte and through our Flounder Revolution ® conservation project, I have developed some specific techniques for safe catch and release of flounder. Many of the strategies applied to other fish apply but these are specific and important for flatfish.

  1. Barbless hooks are key. Flounder are often deep hooked and by using barbless hooks you can more easily remove the hooks you can reach with pliers or hook removers.
  2. Flounder almost always swallow live bait. If you use live bait, do not wait any longer than 10 seconds to set the hook as the fish might swallow it very deeply.
  3. With lures, wait about three seconds to set the hook if you feel a hard “thump” and no longer than five if you feel a smaller tap. A quick hookset will avoid problems and put the hook into the jaw of the fish.
  4. If the fish does swallow the hook deeply, simply cut the line and release the fish. Never use stainless hooks because it will be a death sentence long-term for the flounder. Standard hooks will rust away in fairly short order.
  5. Use a Boca-grip style device to handle the flounder and avoid grabbing the fish below the gills. That is where the organs sit and you could destroy them by gripping too hard. We’ve all done this in the past but using a grip is truly the only way to ensure no organ damage.

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