CHEYENNE - Catch and release is a popular fishing practice, especially among those who enjoy fly fishing for trout.
But the moderate snowpack of last winter coupled with recent warm temperatures already has many streams in Wyoming running low and clear – more typical of late-summer conditions . Because of the dry conditions last year, much of this year’s snowpack simply went into the ground, resulting in lower flows during runoff.
Drought conditions not only reduce flows, but also increase water temperatures. Less water means that rivers and streams warm more quickly, and, where trout are concerned, warm water places extra stress on the fish. Such stress can sometimes result in angler-caused mortality to fish, but can be minimized by following a few guidelines for playing, handling, and releasing fish.
“Being caught and released is stressful on any fish, but especially on kokanee salmon and trout,” said Game and Fish Green River fisheries supervisor Rob Keith. “Anglers should give fish a break as water temperatures reach over 70 degrees. The warmer water stresses fish, and being caught and released stresses them even more. Fish handling mortality can be quite high when warm water temperatures are present. Even if a fish swims away from an angler it does not mean it is going to survive.”
“One of the most important things anglers can do is plan to do their fishing when the water is coolest,” said Mike Snigg, Laramie region fisheries supervisor. “Water cools in the lower nighttime temperatures and the morning hours. The cooler the water, the easier it is for fish to recover after being caught.”
Snigg said that warmer waters are especially prevalent in smaller streams and in river sections where there are no tail-water fisheries.
“With tail-water fisheries, water is coming from the bottom of a dam where temperatures are typically cooler,” Snigg said. “But even in tail-waters, anglers are advised to follow standard catch-and-release practices to minimize stress on the fish.”
Fish that anglers intend to release should be played and landed as rapidly as possible to reduce exhaustion stress. Anglers may wish to choose heavier tippet or leader sections so they can play the fish more quickly and return it to the water promptly.
Careful handling can also reduce fish mortality. Do not squeeze fish. Anglers should take care to keep their fingers away from gills. A landing net facilitates handling a fish and quick hook removal. Anglers may also consider using barbless hooks as the hook is much easier to remove, which minimizes the handling of the fish and the time the fish is out of the water. Regular hooks can be made barbless by flattening the barb with a pair of pliers.
Once you’ve caught a fish, revive it by gently holding it in an upright position with the fish facing upstream in fairly calm water. Move the fish slowly back and forth to get water moving though the gills. You can then release the fish in quiet water after it has regained its strength and is able to swim from your grip.
Anglers who usually use bait may consider using artificial flies or lures if they plan to release fish. Fish caught with artificial lures are five to ten times more likely to survive when released.
See page 13 of the Wyoming Fishing Regulations (available at regional offices, license agents, or wgfd.wyo.gov) for more information on procedures for releasing fish alive.
(Contact: Al Langston, 307-777-4540)