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Friday, January 15, 2010
How to release big northern pike unharmed
Most fishermen today realize that it is best practice to release big northern pike back to the lake where they can pass on their genes for large size and fast growth to future generations of fish.
It's obviously very important that these released fish survive.
There are two major factors in this: 1. Time out of the water and 2. Damage done to the fish.
Once a big fish is brought aboard the boat the stopwatch starts ticking. You need to get the hooks out of this baby, grab a photo and/or measurement and get the fish back in the water in a couple of minutes.
How difficult this process will be depends on what type of lure you are using. The worst are stick baits with three sets of treble hooks. Expect one set of these to be hooked in the gills, one set inside the mouth and the final set hooked to the outside of the head and now wrapped tight in the net by the twisting motion of the pike.
It works best if both fishermen in the boat spring into action once the fish is aboard. One person restrains the fish from moving while the other gets the net mesh pulled off the head. Be careful that the outside treble doesn't hook you as well.
If you are really prepared you will have brought a set of side cutters and you simply cut the split ring or eye off the treble hook, leaving the treble twisted in the net to be removed later. Now that the fish is free from the net, put the net where the fish cannot flop back into it.
If you brought jaw spreaders, (See Best Fish Unhooking Tools) put them in the fish's mouth so that you can get to work on the inside. If you don't have jaw spreaders the person holding the fish can grasp the fish over the top just behind the gill covers and with the other hand pull open the jaw by slipping his hand along the inside of the gill plate being careful to always stay outside of the gills. Do this on the opposite side from where the treble hook is located.
As soon as the mouth is open the other angler takes his Baker Hookout or needle nose pliers and extracts the second and third set of trebles. Keep in mind that sometimes the best way to get hooks out of the gill area is to unsnap the leader and pull the lure out backwards through the gills, not forward through the mouth. It just depends where the hook is embedded.
Grab a quick pix and measurement and get the fish back in the water.
Make sure there is not a blood clot in the gills. If there is, flare the gill cover from beneath and gently flush away the clot with your hands. Anything caught in the gills could cause the fish to die.
Hold the fish in front of its tail and let it take some breaths. Although many of us have successfully revived fish by moving them back and forth gently at this point the latest advice from top anglers is not to do this. Instead, just support the fish by the tail until it starts breathing. If there is any current, turn the fish so it faces upstream.
After a couple of minutes the fish may struggle to get free. If it does, let go of it. If it doesn't, periodically let go to see if it will remain upright on its own. It should eventually swim off.
Lures with one set of trebles, like spinners and spoons, are far simpler and quicker to remove. Lures with single hooks like the Johnson Silver Minnow, spinner baits and jigs are a snap.
If fishing with dead or live bait, use a 5/0 circle hook or a quick-strike rig and not a treble hook.
The circle hook (See Use Circle Hook for Spring Pike) will always be caught in the very corner of the mouth. Just remember not to "set the hook" when using circle hooks. Instead just reel steadily and it is this slow tightening of the line that pulls the hook into the fish's mouth. Setting the hook can jerk the hook right out of the fish's mouth before the point of the hook has penetrated flesh.
The very best bait-fishing option is to use quick strike rigs. With these you set the hook the instant the fish takes the bait. You do not let it "take it" for awhile or it will have swallowed the treble hook.
Contrary to popular opinion, fish that swallow treble hooks almost always die later even if the line is cut from the hook. The hook does not dissolve in the fish's stomach.
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