Getting a good shot of your prized catch is an important part of catch and release fishing for many anglers. Getting a shot that tells a story, that captures the essence of the moment and highlights the character of the fish so those precious moments can be relived when we aren’t out on the water. However, at least for me, knowing the fish I’m photographing swam off strongly and is likely to live and prosper after the release is equally important. There isn’t much use in a wonderful shot of your trophy fish if it is simply going to die soon after you release it. For me, its important not to let my desires for a good photo get in the way of the fishes health. One of the big issues with getting a good shot is that it can take time.
Now, put yourself in the fishes position. Imagine you’ve just run a marathon, your pretty stuffed and just after you cross the finish line someone grabs you and puts your head under water. How long do you think you’d last? That is more or less the position a fish is in once it safely reaches your net. Its just put up the fight of its life and to top it all off, you’ve now deprived it of oxygen. Needless to say, to increase the fishes chances of survival, limiting time out of the water is important. For example, mortality for rainbow trout played to exhaustion that were not exposed to air was just 12%, while for rainbow trout played to exhaustion and then exposed to air for 30 or 60 seconds, mortality was 38% and 72% respectively. Similarly rock bass exposed to air for 30 seconds after simulated angling required 2 hours for cardiac parameters to return to normal, whereas fish exposed to air for 180 seconds took over 4 hours to recover. Similar sub-lethal results have also been shown in both large and smallmouth bass. While the effects may be sub-lethal in many species, increased recovery times are likely to put more stress on the fish and potentially lead to predation and other indirect causes of mortality. So while there is only limited scientific data (on a limited number of species) on the effects of air exposure on fish after angling, decreasing exposure to air is likely to decrease stress and increase post release survival of your catch.
So how do we then incorporate that knowledge into improving our catch and release practices while also getting a great shot to share on instagram and facebook, put on the wall or simply to text to a couple of mates so you can make them jealous. Firstly, consider taking in water shots, whether they are taken underwater or from above it . Some of my favourite shots on social media these days are underwater shots. There are some great photographers on instagram and the like doing some great under water photography. If you want to get your grip and grin (and lets face it, most fishermen myself included love a good old grip and grin), minimise the time your fish spends out of the water. Part of that is making sure you have a plan on how you photograph your catch. Make sure your camera is ready to be used as soon as your fish hits the net. Like everything, having a plan will help you decrease the time it takes to get an excellent shot. Here it can also be useful to utilise “dunking”. That is keep your fish in the water and then only take it out of the water for “photoshoots” of ideally less than 5 seconds before putting it back under water for 30 seconds or so before another another “photoshoot”. Of course the photo is only one part of fish handling, having a clear thought out plan on how you are going to de-hook and handle your fish before the photo will help limit the time the fish spends out of the water and also increase the time you have to get a photo without compromising the post release health of the fish. Its here where the use of barbless hooks, de-hooking in the water and other fish handling techniques will help you minimise handling time and do the fishes chances of recovering quickly a world of good.
In conclusion, we all love to get great photos, its part of catch and release fishing, just remember to keep the health of the fish in the back of your mind when you are getting them. Until the next time good luck on the water and happy fishing