Handling Fish Before Release
Just a word about handling fish. Bass such as smallmouth or largemouth are commonly lipped since the inside of their mandibles consists of fine sandpaper like teeth. Other predator fish sport substantial teeth that can easily cut and tear and are handled differently.
One of the most common ways of injuring a bass is to “lip” it and then hold it out in a horizontal plane, putting all the pressure on the lower mandible and jaw. You’ll see this done all the time at fish weigh-ins as the “pros” pull big fish out of the bag, one in each hand, and hold them out for display.
It is imperative to support the rear caudal and tail section of the fish when holding it to the horizontal. By supporting the fish’s weight on both ends, you will not overburden the lower jaw and avoid injury.
Another poor habit is laying the fish on the ground or floor of the boat for a photo opp. The outer slime layer of the fish protects it against infection and you will damage and partially remove this layer when laying a fish against a substrate of any kind.
When you plan to release a fish, the best method is to keep it in the water until the photographer is ready. Then, gently lift up the fish holding it by its lower mandible and letting it hang – for a vertical shot – or supporting the rear for a horizontal photograph.
Fish are much more susceptible to injury than most anglers think. Over handling, tossing them “willy-nilly” into the water, and laying them down on a dry substrate can all contribute to delayed mortality and disease.
Also, don’t forget to fight all fish quickly using the correct gear to quickly land them. This will also aid immensely in a healthy release allowing the fish to live and grow for your next encounter!