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The Eddy Line: Catch and release, do it right

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By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

Most anglers want the glory shot with a big grin and an even bigger fish. In today’s world of selfies, social media posts, and mega-sharing, the desire is strong to photograph our catch.

For those of us who’ve been fishing a long time and have caught plenty of big trout, photographing every catch is a thing of the past. But even for us more experienced anglers, you can bet we want to share a pic of a trophy trout. For folks new to fly fishing, a photograph is a fine way to document the experience.

Our wild trout are beautiful creatures and deserve a large part of the angling spotlight. The more we prominently feature our local fish in social media, the more awareness and protection they’re likely to receive. However, be very aware of proper fish fighting and handling techniques if you plan to photograph and release a trout.

Here’s some help to ensure you get a good pic and the fish survives to be caught another day.

Practicing proper techniques for fish you plan to photograph and release ensures your catch will live to fight another day. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER GUIDES

Practicing proper techniques for fish you plan to photograph and release ensures your catch will live to fight another day. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER GUIDES

Learn to fight fish quicker. A general rule is to be sure the rod has a full bend to it while applying pressure at a sideways angle to the current. Use your thumbnail as a guide – when a fish is hooked have your thumbnail pointing upstream against the current and not up to the sky. This application of sideways pressure tires a fish more quickly and allows you to pull the fish in the desired direction.

Get their head above water. The moment you feel the fish begin to rise to the surface, use their upward momentum to your advantage. If their head breaches the surface, quickly raise your hand above you to keep their head out of the water. If a trout’s head is above the water they can’t steer themselves and you can net them faster.

Use a net. By using a net the fish are brought in quicker; less prone to flopping on the bank and causing injury, or ingesting sediment into their gills; and a net allows a safe place for fish to be held in the water while you ready the camera.

Keep the fish wet at all times. Do not take a trout out of the water until the camera is on, the photographer is ready, and the angler has a gentle hold of the fish before taking it out of the net. Raise the fish out of the net quickly, give a big grin, snap a shot, and get the fish back in the net quickly. If you can see water dripping from the fish in your picture, you know you’ve succeeded.

Gently grip and grin it. When holding a trout for a picture, place one hand underneath the fish between the head and belly, and have the other hand gently grasping the underside of the body where the tail begins. Do not try to grip the top or side of the fish, as this will squeeze its vitals and also cause it to struggle more. Think about it – the harder someone squeezes you, the more you want to get away.

Keep the fish as close to the water as possible. Pictures with fish in them always look better when the fish is as close to the water as possible. If you’re in a boat, do your best to get out of the boat or lean over the side so the fish is near the water. If you’re wading, kneel into the water. Both the fish and your Facebook friends will like the photo that much more.

Release properly. Allow the fish time to recover in slow-moving water before its release. If a fish shows few signs of breathing – gills opening and closing – and the tail isn’t moving side to side, move it forward and backwards in the current to get water flowing through the gills. The fish will begin to swim with its tail when it’s ready to swim on its own. Never release a fish in calm, dirty water or very fast-moving water.

Catching trout is fun and taking a nice photograph is an ideal way to hold onto a memory. By practicing proper catch and release techniques, you can keep the fish alive and still be the darling of the World Wide Web.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky, he is co-director of the Montana Fishing Guide School, and co-owns a guide service on the Missouri River.

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