Many thanks to our colleagues over at the Department of Environmental Control for sharing this important info in the DEC Saltwater Fishing & Boating Newsletter, 09/11/2020.

Anglers can take simple steps to improve the quality of future fishing. When catch and release fishing, it’s important to practice safe and ethical fish handling to help release your fish unharmed.

Follow the tips below to help ensure your fish’s survival:

#1 Consider environmental conditions

Fighting a fish in warmer water can cause greater stress and the fish will exhaust itself more quickly. Anglers should use tackle appropriate to the size of the fish you are targeting to avoid long fight times.

#2 Avoid treble hooks, barbs, and gaffs

Crush or file off barbs on hooks to reduce de-hooking time and damage to the fish. Do not gaff a fish unless it is legal size and you intend to keep it. Circle hooks are encouraged when fishing with bait.

#3 Be prepared

Have all the necessary tools on hand before landing a fish to help reduce the time it’s out of the water during the de-hooking process. If a fish becomes gut-hooked, cut the leader as closely as possible to the hook and leave the hook in place; it will rust out after a short time.

#4 Minimize the fish’s exposure to air

Keep fish in the water as much as possible. If you must handle a fish, make sure your hands are wet, hold it horizontally and firmly, and support its weight under the belly. Never hold a fish by its eyes or gills. If using a landing net, use a “knotless” net to reduce removing slime and scales from the fish.

#5 Proper release

While in control of the fish, orient it headfirst into the current, then gently move the fish in a side-to-side pattern so that water flows through the mouth and over the gills. Do not let the fish go until it is able to swim strongly out of your grasp.

Photo credit: Maryland Department of Natural Resources

DEC recommends the use of non-offset circle hooks when fishing with bait for striped bass. Circle hooks are designed to hook the corner of a fish’s mouth, which will make it easier to release the fish, reduce deep hooking casualties, and increase survival rates of released fish. Circle hooks will be mandatory when fishing for striped bass with bait starting in 2021.