CATFISH CONSERVATION -Trophy Catfish for the Future
by Eddie White
Less Stress, Healthier Fish
Ever catch a fish with fungus on it? How about one infected with parasites? When you do it is the sign of a fish that has already been stressed in the natural habitat and the immune system is not as good as a healthy fish. If anglers can reduce the stress the fish will be release with a higher survival rate?
Probably one of the most exciting parts of catching a big catfish is the take down. The rod doubles over and you know there is a trophy on the end of the line. The fight is on! The next question is, how long did it take to get ol’ Mr. Whiskers in?
The hookup is the first step of stress after the hook has penetrated the corner of the mouth. The longer it takes to get a fish in, the more tired it will be. And, the stress factor is steadily increasing.
The best thing you can do is get that fatty landed as quickly as possible without “horsing” the fish in. Normally you grab the net and lift the fish to the bank or into the boat.
The fish has been pulled out of the environment where it has spent all of its life, into a foreign territory. It will be stressed.
Now, suppose you begin to remove the hook and discover that the beast has engulfed the circle hook and is now bleeding out of the gills. If the hook is not buried in the throat, cut the line as close to the hook as you can before releasing the fish.
Some anglers use the Mountain Dew trick when the fish is bleeding. I have used it and it works! I pour some Dew thru the gills where the fish is bleeding, and the citrus will cauterize the wound. It stops the bleeding and you can release the fish without having a trail of blood following the fish as it returns to the depths of the water.
Less Stress from Photos
With a trophy cat in the boat or on the shore, most anglers like to take a photo. I have a regular process for taking pictures with the fish in mind. If I am in a boat I will always put the fish in my livewell and pump it with as much water and air as possible.
If on the bank, I will have an extra ice chest with me or a 5-gallon bucket, to pour water over the fish. Alternatively, I put the fish in the net and set it in the water. Now I feel comfortable to get my line back in the water, knowing that the fish is in good shape, and reviving.
Personally, I don’t use lip grippers. They can further stress the fish and reduce the survival rate. Grabbing ol’ whiskers by the mouth and holding vertically can result in the possibility of no recovery.
The absolute worst thing an angler can do is grab any fish by the gills and hoist it up. I prefer (depending on size) to grab the fish around the tail, run my hand under the belly, and grip right before the gills. For big, monster fish, this can be more of a challenge, but can be done. In the same fashion, cradle the fish in your arms and support it horizontally for taking your trophy photo shots.
The time you hold the fish out of the water matters too. It you have taken a lot of time to get those shots you’re going to show off for a lifetime, it may be time to revive the fish again.
Release Stress Free
Now that the pictures are done, it is time for the release. Weather makes a difference. A winter fish is typically livelier at release then a hot summer fish. The best way to tell if a fish is ready to go is how long it takes to kick its tail.
When the fish is lowered into the water and is taking longer than expected to kick its tail and swim off, more resuscitation is a good option. Many anglers move a fish back and forth in the water. This is not the best method since it is not natural to the fish. If possible, face the fish into a current to allow oxygen to run through the gills. Hold the fish gently or cradle it. With a successful revival, off he goes.
Watching people on social media throwing or tossing a fish over the side of a boat always makes me cringe. We all have experience dropping a fish accidentally, setting it down on a hot floor, or leaving it in a net as another rod bends over. If that is the case, just be sure to revive the fish the absolute best you can to ensure less stress.
Releasing a trophy fish, is just about as much fun as catching one. Taking proper care to ensure their survival is always a must. The result of proper fish care is the opportunity for other anglers to catch a trophy catfish of a lifetime.