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A strange thought occurred to me today -- size limits not only forbid keeping fish outside certain size ranges, but also using them for bait, or otherwise killing them -- for example, discarding them onshore...

What about accidental kills while trying to remove a hook? I'm a rank novice when it comes to unhooking fish -- just starting to get comfortable holding them.

"It is unlawful to destroy unnecessarily any inland game fish taken from public fishing waters." Does "unnecessarily" usually account for unhooking accidents?

I'm wondering if I ought to file off my barbs until I gain more expertise at removing hooks. I'm most interested in catch-and-release at the moment anyway, and I've read one recommendation that keeping the line tight on retrieve would help more than a barb anyway.

It kinda seems like a catch-22... if I need to be certain not to accidentally kill anything of illegal size, that kinda discourages me from trying to remove my hooks, for fear of accidentally maiming the fish. Which kinda discourages me from even trying to catch 'em...

I'm probably thinking too much...
Kevin
 

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Kevin, All you can do is your best to try to safely remove the hook and get the fish back into the water as quick as possible. It’s been my experience that more fish die of improper handling than from hook removal.

I like to take a snap shot with my catch as much as the next guy, but you have to be very quick about it. I do not keep the fish out of water any longer than I would like to be under water. Then when I put it back I gently put it in the water and revive it until it can swim off with its own strength. Allot of time when you first put the fish back in the water it is just in a state of shock. I just hold it there and let it get its bearing back, usually after a minute or so of this the fish will right itself and take off like a rocket. One thing I hate is people who "throw" fish back in like it’s a piece of trash going to a trashcan. You see this all the time with tournament fishermen who get distracted and annoyed that they did not catch a fish worthy of increasing their total weight.

Barbless hooks do make it a tad easier to remove them. It depends on the species and the hook your using. If I am bass fishing with a big old weedless bass hook I usually leave the barb on as I can remove them really quick and they don’t seem to bother the Bass that much. I would definitely consider debarbing treble hooks while using them for anything other than fish that you plan to keep. Those things can be allot of trouble to remove esp. if the fish takes them deeply. And of course there are some waters such as trout streams that require bardless flies. I read something from the DFG about Roanoke River Strippers and it said they either require or strongly recommend circle hooks. I have never used circle hooks, but they sound like a good idea for the bait fisherman who does not want to keep his catch.

I always carry a pair of hemostats when fishing. Almost all fly fishermen use these, but they also work well for conventional tackle. If I am fishing for Catfish or other large species that require larger hooks, I carry needle nose pliers. Not only do these tools work like 100% better than your hands, they will also save your hand from being hooked when the fish inevitably decides to trash around when you almost have the hook removed. :eek:

Sooner or later though, no matter how careful you are, you are bound to release a fish that goes belly up. If it is a legal sized fish I will take it home to eat, if it is of an illegal size I just leave it for the rest of the food chain. I would certainly not leave a bunch of dead fish lying all over the place, but one rare fish will make a meal for something else. Thats how the food chain works, every body of water has scavengers who make a meal of a dead fish.
 

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Sometimes you may cut your line just above the hook if it's too hard to extract. The hook will rust out in short time, allowing the fish to live on.
I try to get the hook out, but you got to do what you gotta do.
 
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