Copyright February 2000, Robert Boudreau (all rights reserved)



Preserve the Legend
Catch and Release Techniques for Salmon

Proper catch and release techniques are extremely important and relevant to Atlantic Salmon fisherpersons here in Atlantic Canada as a result of regulatory requirements. All salmon over 24.6 inches must be released and a great deal of study and education has been dedicated to proper techniques. Despite these efforts however there is still room for improvement by our local anglers based on my observations. Studies have show that mortality rates of less than 5% can be achieved by using proper techniques. One of the most important issues is exposure to air. A recent catch and release study by a local fisheries biologist suggests that air exposed fish experienced devastating additional stress levels causing significantly higher mortality.

I relate an excellent analogy when I think of holding an Atlantic Salmon out of the water for a photo opportunity. It is like having a track star run a 6 minute mile and then immediately sticking his head in the water bucket at the finish line! (Don't try this at home.) Under some circumstances this additional stress may be all it takes to push an exhausted fish past the point of no return. I am certainly an offender when it comes to taking pictures of large fish but I do try to keep air exposure to a minimum.  I put the well-being of the fish first and foremost, the photo comes second.

Another important issue for salmon is taking time to revive the fish. I hold the fish upright with one hand on the tail and the other under the fish just behind the gills. The fish should be pointed up river to allow the water to wash through the gills as easily as possible . Some suggest moving the fish back and forth however I am not convinced this is necessary in my experience. Hold the fish until you are absolutely sure that its energy has returned. You can usually feel the response in your hands (a very rewarding feeling). By the way most of the local anglers who practice catch and release for salmon do not use nets. I am convinced that nets do more damage than good and a hand tailed properly handled fish has an excellent chance of survival. There is apparently evidence that certain material in nets can do irreparable damage to fish's eyes. Water temperature is also a critical consideration. Studies indicate that the higher the water temperature the higher the mortality rate for released fish. Personally, in the case of Atlantic Salmon I would like to see angling closed when water temperatures reach 70 degrees. A trout or salmon caught in warm water should be played quickly and handled with great care.

 Here are some do's and don'ts that are used in this area

 Do:

  • Pinch the hook barb flat.
  • Bring the fish as quickly as possible into reach or break the line.
  • Keep the salmon in the water.
  • Remove the fly with hemostats or pliers or cut the line at the hook.
  • Support the fish in an upright position facing upstream until it is fully revived.

Do Not:

  • Beach the salmon.
  • Squeeze the fish.
  • Hold the fish upright by the tail.

In the end , only the conscientious efforts of individual anglers can make the difference. Help preserve the privilege, practice catch and release!

Bob Boudreau