What’s the best way to hold a fish?

You’ve a caught a nice fish and have it close to the boat or the shore, and you’re trying to figure out the best way to hold the fish to get the hook out and take a photo. We’ve all been there (and if not, you’re probably at the wrong blog…). Should you grab it by the lip? By the gill cover? By the tail? One hand or two? Gaff? Net? I’m here to set the record straight on the best way to land and handle a fish for the fish’s health and the best way to photograph with a fish to show off your catch like a pro! When it comes to landing a fish, a lot can go wrong. You can miss with the net, scaring the fish onto a run through the boat prop. You may try to gaff a fish through the mouth, missing and hitting it through the skull. You can also lift a fish straight out of the water by the line, and have the line snap while you are so close to bringing the 5 lb. rainbow trout onto the pier (sorry Trent). According to fisheries scientists John Tiedemann and Dr. Andy Danylchuk (2012), the safest way to land a fish is to not actually land it; keep the fish in the water and grab it with your hands or a net. Many fish can be dehooked and photographed easily while in the water, like the tarpon below. This keeps the fish safe by surrounding it by water, and it prevents it from thrashing on the boat/ground which can cause damage to you, the fish, and your stuff. If you must bring it onto the boat or on the shore, a net is the best option, as it’ll cause the fish the least harm. Gaffing a fish is fine for a fish that you plan on keeping, but is not recommended for catch and release as it can mortally wound a fish.

Bringing a fish onto the boat safely is also important for your photos as a vibrant, colorful, healthy looking fish makes for the best photos. Now, what’s the best way to hold it to make it look as big as possible without hurting the fish? A recent study by Skaggs et al. (2017) showed that in terms of long-term survival, there really is not much of a difference to largemouth bass if you hold them vertically by the lip with one hand/lip gripper or if you hold them horizontally with an extra hand to support the belly. Bigger fish have more weight to be pulled down on by gravity, though, so larger species like striped bass should be held horizontal to avoid damaging their jaw or internal organs. Fish with teeth shouldn’t be lipped at all (duh), but you can still support their belly with one hand and their tail with another. Holding fish by gill covers should be avoided as this can damage their gills. Many also fish have sharp gill covers, like snook, and can badly cut your hand if you hold them like that.

Fish do revive more quickly when you hold them horizontally for photos and dehooking (Skaggs et al., 2017), though. So, while lipping fish my not harm them in the long-run if you revive them properly (see blog post on fish CPR), it is best for them if you support their belly with a hand as well. Supporting the belly also makes for a great picture, as it bulges the belly out, making the fish look fatter! For best photos, you should also hold the fish out almost at arm’s length, to make the fish look as big as possible. However, you’ll want a slight bend in your elbows so it doesn’t look like you’re doing that. For best lighting, face the sun, preferably with sunglasses. Then, take the photo as quickly as possible, as a fish’s colors will fade the longer it is out of the water. Now, send in your best fish pics to @AFishingStoryTV! Noah Bressman is a PhD candidate studying fish biology, behavior, and biomechanics at Wake Forest University. Below is Noah with an Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), caught on a blue and silver Kastmaster spoon at Seneca Lake, NY. Note the hand on the bulging belly makes the fish look fatter, but the hand in front of the tail obscures the tail. For the best photos, you should hold the tail from behind.

References Skaggs, J., Quintana, Y., Shaw, S. L., Allen, M. S., Trippel, N. A., & Matthews, M. (2017). Effects of common angler handling techniques on Florida Largemouth Bass behavior, feeding, and survival. North American Journal of Fisheries Management37(2), 263-270. Tiedemann, J. & Danylchuk, A. (2012). Assessing Impacts of Catch and Release Practices on Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) Implications for Conservation and Management. https://www.monmouth.edu/uci/documents/2018/10/best-practices-striped-bass-catch-and-release-report.pdf/

Merry's Pier
801 Pass-A-Grill Way
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706
(727) 647-3855

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Since becoming a captain in 2003, Captain Scott Borne has racked up the wins on the tournament circuit. With over 50 top three finishes (as Captain) and another 20 some as mate, fishing with Capt. Scott gives you and your guests the best chance at that fishing trip of a lifetime!

Hi, my name is Captain Scott Borne. I’m a full time saltwater fishing guide in Jensen Beach, Florida. For the last 30 years I have lived in Martin County fishing the local waters, as well as throughout the Bahamas, the Keys and the Yucatan (Isla Mujeres Mexico). I have been a professional fisherman for the last 20 years, with the last nine spent as Captain of the Stuart based fishing charter boat Boneshaker. My experience with charter, private, tournament, and demo boats, along with hosting seminars, radio and television shows has helped me develop a well-rounded approach to ensuring that you have the most enjoyable day on the water along with the best opportunity to land your dream fish.

Even before I can remember, (they say) I enjoyed catching anything that would eat my bait. At 2 ½ my first off-shore game fish was about a ten pound Barracuda (I’ve seen the pictures) the same day I saw a sailfish caught and I got seasick and sunburned. I was hooked for life.

I feel extremely fortunate to have been exposed to such a fulfilling lifestyle through the boating community. Some of my fondest memories are of family fishing trips, vacations fishing and diving in the Bahamas, and little one day fishing tournaments out of Stuart. Now, with “OFF the CHAIN” I’m looking forward to providing both my family and yours with those same great times. One of the best parts about this job other than “the Bite” is watching people experience what will become their most cherished memories. Whether it’s catching the fish of a lifetime, watching the satisfaction a dad gets as he helps his child reel in their first fish, or celebrating a memorable occasion, I understand this day is special to you and your guests. My goal is to make your trip the most enjoyable and memorable it can be and I always give 110% to make sure your Fl. fishing charter is OFF THE CHAIN!