Lip grips- yay or nay?

Lip grips. Useful or harmful?
Lip grips. Useful or harmful?

Lip grips are useful little tools when handling fish. Used correctly they can aid in quick, safe releases. Used incorrectly or on the wrong fish they can also harm and even kill fish. So the question is how and on what species should we use lip grips? Or should we use them at all?

Firstly a little “science”. Most fish are relatively sensitive to damage, which can lead to infections and other complications, as catch and release fishermen, our aim is to limit that to the greatest extent possible to do our best to ensure the post release survival of the fish we catch, so we can hopefully catch them again one day. Of course we are putting hooks in fish, so some level of damage is par for the course, good fish handling is about limiting that as much as possible. Poor fish handling can kill fish and good fish handling is something catch and release anglers should be acutely aware. The broader issue of good fish handling is a much bigger issue that we will discuss in detail in later posts. This post is mainly about lip grips. The main issue with lip grips is their metal jaws which distribute force over a small area and can damage the mouths of fish. That damage can be quite severe (especially if used incorrectly) and can open a doorway to infection. The worst case scenario of this damage is that it can cause a higher mortality in the fish we catch and release. For example, bonefish appear to be particularly susceptible with lip grips causing damage to 80% of bonefish held in the water and 100% of fish held in the air. Of these 40% of fish had serious injuries e.g. tongues separated from the mouth, splitting on the mandible (link here), many of which could have proved fatal. In barramundi, lip grips perforated the membranes in the lower jaw in 81% of fish handled with support and 100% of fish handled without support (link here). Both those studies suggest that lip grips may do more harm than good in some species. Using the precautionary principle it suggest we should probably avoid using them on a number of different species and should seriously consider not using them at all. That said, it would be nice to have studies like the ones above for all popular sport fish as lip grips may be fine in some species. However, until that data is available, it may be time to consider retiring your lip grips for a while…

Research shows lip grips may not be great for Barra. Whether you use them or not, its always important to support the weight of the fish and never lift it by its mouth or gills alone. Here is Dan doing it right :)
Research shows lip grips may not be great for Barra. Whether you use them or not, its always important to support the weight of the fish and never lift it by its mouth or gills alone. Here is Dan doing it right 🙂

Leaving the preachiness of that last sentence for a moment, lip grips can be very useful and there may still be cases where they have a place in the responsible catch and release anglers bag of tricks. For example, often when catch and release fishing, once I have a few photos for the blog, I quickly move to releasing fish without taking them out of the water or even putting a hand on them. This is the best method for handling fish when practicing catch and release, that is, handling them as little as possible to minimise stress and potential damage to the skin or slime on the fishes skin through contact with hands, hard, hot or dry surfaces etc etc. In this scenario, lip grips can make it easier to control a fish in the water while you take the hooks out so that it can quickly be released. Here lip grips may (in some cases) be an OK or even very good way of handling some fish. So there may be some scenarios where lip grips can still play a role when used responsibly. Added to that, new lip grip designs (plastic, larger surface areas etc) may cause less damage and be less harmful to fish. While the evidence on injury detailed above is bad, there may still be a role for lip grips, especially if fishing companies come up with new designs that address the issue of fish injury. While I believe that the original metal jawed lip grips should probably be phased out by most catch and release fishermen, lip grips overall probably aren’t dead and properly designed lip grips addressing some of the issues with the older designs may well have a role to play in the future.

I’ll leave the final decision as whether you chose to use lip grips or not up to you. There are of course some absolute no-nos with lip grips. The big one is NEVER lift a fish by the lip grips alone. Lip grips should not be used to lift fish EVER. While they are useful for controlling fish, lifting fish with lip grips can cause damage to vertebrae, mouths, jaws and tongues, potentially causing death. Lifting any fish out of the water, especially large fish, it is important to support the weight of the fish. Lip grips alone won’t do that. The same goes for lifting fish by the jaw or gills, just don’t do it if you plan of releasing your catch. Lips grips are primarily there to help you control fish, not to lift them. Use them as they are designed and support the weight of the fish in the mid section when lifting them out of the water (big fish especially). This will vastly reduce any potential injuries caused by the lip grips. The data from the bonefish and barramundi studies clearly shows that misused lip grips cause by far the most damage. If you are going to keep using lip grips, make sure you do it responsibly.

Self shame: some poor fish handling from my past. Cute little fish on a bone dry log. This is what not to do. Hopefully the fish survived my abuse...
Self shame: some poor fish handling from my past. Cute little fish on a bone dry log. This is what not to do. Hopefully the fish survived my abuse…

Now that may all seem a bit preachy, which isn’t the intention, like most, we have at times been guilty of sins against proper fish handling. It happens. What important is that we learn from those mistakes, educate ourselves through discussions with other angler and update our ideas when new science comes along so we can continually keep improving our fish handling techniques. On a personal note, I used to use lip grips. A few years ago after reading the bonefish study and a very unfortunate incident with a little barramundi I stopped (the unfortunate incident was trying to get a photo of a little barra, it kicked, I lost my grip on it, it fell, the leash detached from the lip grips and the fish with lip grips attached went over the side, leaving me feeling horrible). Most fish I catch can be quickly handled and released back into the water without them, so for me at least, I decided that the potential benefits weren’t worth the risk. My lip grips now form part of my carp arsenal, they mean I don’t have to carry a net and given in Victoria carp have to be humanely dispatched when caught, the issues about post release survival and damage simply aren’t a factor. In the end though the decision you make is up to you and we’d dearly love to know your thoughts on the issue though.

My lip grips have found a new home, forming part of my carp fishing arsenal. Thats the only action they see these days...
My lip grips have found a new home, forming part of my carp fishing arsenal. Thats the only action they see these days…

So what are your opinions on lip grips? Why do you use them? Why don’t you use them? Do they have a place in catch and release fishing? Or are they a tool that should be consigned to the dustbin of “well meaning” but ineffective gadgets? Some of the newer designs, made with plastic, with larger surface areas may be a lot better, should we move to those? Let us know your thoughts and stay tuned for a few more in depth posts on proper fish handling techniques.

Cheers

Hamish

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

12 thoughts on “Lip grips- yay or nay?

  • April 1, 2014 at 4:30 pm
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    I think the standard metal pincer lip grips are horrible.

    I am not the least bit surprised that scientific research is now coming out showing how damaging metal lip grips are.

    The moment metal lip grips came out I could see that they were bad news, concentrated way too much force/pressure onto way too small an area with their ridiculous thin metal pincers, and were going to cause serious fish damage.

    I have been urging against their use for years.

    The newer lip grips made out of plastic look somewhat promising … they certainly have a much more sensible design, with broader contact areas that don’t concentrate force/pressure as much.

    Still I have my doubts … there’s no doubt it’s best not to lip grips if you can avoid it.

    I am passionate about catch and release fishing for Murray cod, and I am still in no doubt that the best way to handle these delicate and highly strung fish is to jaw grip them while wearing a glove … or even an old woollen sock.

    Reply
    • April 1, 2014 at 4:58 pm
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      Agreed, the old “cod thumb” seems to be a thing of pride amongst many cod anglers anyway- using fingers and thumbs is definitely the best was to approach handling fish such as barra, cod etc IMO.

      Some of the new designs do look OK though, definitely a lot better than the old designs which should probably be done away with entirely. The studies that have been done on them have proven they do a fair bit of damage and tbh they are likely to damage most fish species.

      Generally though, its pretty easy to avoid using them. I can’t say I missed retiring mine a few years ago.

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
  • April 2, 2014 at 5:56 am
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    I have been using boga and lucid (a boga like grip) grips for the past five years and I just love them. They give me control and that keeps the fish from getting hurt. I don’t normally use them on bass, but they are great for toothy pike, and carp which are hard to get a grip on. A lot of the marine spieces I catch have poison spines and sharp teeth so the grips make quick work of them. I have seen people do more damage using pliers to hold a toothy fish, or dropping a lish on the ground than with grips. They even make releasing easier as you can just hold them in the water secure until they are ready to do. I catch and release pleanty of fish using metal lip grips. t would be safe to bet that cameras kill more fish every year than grips.

    Reply
    • April 2, 2014 at 7:47 am
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      Fair enough. They can definitely make releasing some fish a lot easier, so they have a place. I’d suggest thinking about moving to some of the new plastic models, which are likely to do less damage. You’ve also foreshadowed another post in the works about properly photographing fish for catch and release… Far too often you see people holding fish out of the water for way to long to get a good shot. If you are going to take your time getting a photo, its important to limit the actually time out of the water… Personally I try to limit it to 10 second “photo shoots”, then 30 seconds back in the water, 10 seconds again if you need it etc etc.

      Interesting discussion on pike and lip grips here (http://www.tackletradeworld.com/news/headlines/item/797-storm-over-lip-grip-use-on-pike).

      Thanks for the reply

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
    • April 2, 2014 at 12:14 pm
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      Yes, excessive camera sessions — to pump up already over-inflated egos — are a problem, but they are not relevant to this discussion, are they?

      Pike are a great fish. The one decent one I’ve caught so far was unhooked easily off a shad jig with a single barbless hook, without any lip-gripper, net, or whatever.

      Regarding your comments defending the use of the metal lip grips for pike … I’d suggest their use is just not a good idea. I’d also suggest some of the injuries they inflict on fish are subtle but serious and that we fishermen are good at underestimating them. At the very least, the newer plastic lip grips would be a better option.

      Reply
      • April 2, 2014 at 2:26 pm
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        I used them on pike and never had that problem. Probably because I supported the body of the fish. The swivel heads on grips like Boga and Lucid keep the fish from peeling their lips off. I have seen that twice with the plastic, vise-grip like, grips.

        Reply
      • April 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm
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        My wife’s uncle prefers to grab the fish by the eyes. Have a pike smash a crank bait you are bass fishing with and tell me how easy it is to get the thing out of its mouth. The other method people use is shoving their hands in the gills. I have done that one as well. Not the best for the fish either.

        Reply
    • April 3, 2014 at 2:48 am
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      They really aren’t though. The problem with those grips is the reason why crappy grips are so dangerous…What happens when you land a fish? They go nuts often trying to do some death roll like an alligator. When the grips don’t allow that rotation to happen, the fishes jaw breaks. A good quality grip like the Bogas or the Lucid Grips allow for that movement and cause minimal damage to a fish. Any damage that they may cause is far less than the the damage a hook through it’s mouth while playing the hardest tugowar game of their life caused.

      I have landed countless musky, pike, bass, carp, drum, etc…with Lucid grips and have never seen any damage that was worse than the hook. In reality, if you decided to catch a fish then you are already risking mortality. It’s just the way the game is played. Personally, grips allow for a quicker and safer release than any net, finger through a gill, or death grip ever will.

      Reply
      • April 3, 2014 at 9:21 am
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        Interesting. Thanks for that.

        Cheers
        Hamish

        Reply
  • April 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm
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    Great post Hamish – food for thought! It’s interesting that the on the front page of the Boga grips site (http://www.boga-grip.com/) there is a huge Salmon / Trout hanging from the grips. Look at the displacement of the neck … fail

    Reply

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