Unhooking a fish isn’t always easy, but it’s worth learning how to do it the correct way. This will greatly increase the chances of survival, stop the spread of infection and keep the water populated.
The fish needs to be in the water for as much time as possible. The longer you take to reel it in, the more chance there is that the fish will suffer from exhaustion and potentially die.
Prepare your grip by wetting your hands or gloves so the fish’s scales don’t stick to them.
Hold one finger under the chin, with the thumb around the head. Keep the other hand wrapped around the pectoral fins. If the fish is struggling, you can hold it belly up in the water for a few seconds to disorient it.
These aren’t necessary, but they do help. A landing net head or cradle made from mesh will even retain a little water.
Hold the eyelet of the hook and slide it out the same way it came in, following the curve. When backing the hook out, twist it but don’t yank it.
Scissors, disgorgers and long-nosed pliers give you a more precise grip and keep the fish from biting your hand. Scissors let your cut off the barb, while pliers have a tapered head that fits well in the fish’s mouth and can straighten the hook.
There are many disinfectants on the market. Some, like the Korda Propolis, also create waxy seals to cover the wound while sterilising it.
Gently lower the fish into the water, supporting the belly (or lower jaw for a bass) and let it go. If it doesn’t swim away immediately, move it back and forth in the water to get some water in the gills. Let go when the fish tries to swim away. Larger fish may take a little longer to revive.
No matter how much you try, sometimes the hook will simply not come out. If it’s embedded too deeply, generally when bait fishing, the advice has always been to cut the line and leave the hook in the mouth. Otherwise, you risk causing severe damage or bleeding that could kill the fish. Studies have found that the fish is two to three times more likely to survive if you leave the hook in place.
Hooks made from carbon instead of stainless steel corrode and are more likely to break off. This gives the fish a better chance of survival if you have to leave the hook in.
Circle hooks offer the best chance of the fish surviving, so it might be worth switching to these.
Along with material and pattern, consider the size of the hook. If it’s too small for the fish, you’re more likely to gut-hook them.
Hooks left in can pass through the fish, causing more damage. Breaking them off should always be a last resort. If you can, get an extra pair of hands to help you try and remove the hook. With the right equipment, technique and some help, you can do your bit to keep the water well-stocked.