With more anglers pursuing these predators every year, the need for proper releasing techniques is crucial to ensure the survival of post-release fish, and to sustain the sport fishery.
The Right Tools And Gear
You need the right tools to play, and to release a big pike without exhausting or over-stressing the fish. The right tools begin with your fishing equipment. Your set-up should include heavy-action rods, and reels with high ratios and large spools to quickly retrieve line. Spool reels with quality line with a minimum rating of 65-pound-test. The terminal end should have steel leader with strong snaps and ball bearing swivels.
You will need the right tools to land and release these big predators. Opinions vary on the best device to land a muskie, but nets and cradles (large enough to comfortably hold, or pen, a pike) are two popular options. You will also need tools to help cut and remove hooks from the fish’s mouth, including long-nosed pliers, hook cutters, jaw spreaders, and hook-removers.
Remember, cutting hooks can be faster than removing them with pliers, but it is critical to remove all the hook pieces. Pieces left in the fish can lead to infection and, potentially, death.
Have The Knowledge
You’ve just spent a couple hundred dollars on a quality net, a rod and reel combo, a dozen lures, and the latest release tools. Better yet, you’re on a beautiful lake and have a good population of monster pike. Adrenaline rushes through your body, but are you prepared to safely land this fish? This is an important question anglers new to muskie fishing need to ask themselves before fishing. Netting a fat walleye, requires skill and confidence, but handling big, aggressive fish is more demanding. The good news is there are many ways to learn how to land and release pike properly.
One of the best ways to learn is by doing. Joining a club will connect you to a wealth of pike information. Hiring a credible guide is another way to gain first-hand experience. Reading publications specific to pike fishing and attending seminars at fishing shows are two other ways to boost your release know-how.
Confidence And Patience
“Zen and the art of pike fishing?” you ask. No, but confidence and patience are two traits that will go a long way to ensure you properly release fish. When working in close quarters with pike, you must be confident in your actions; this is where the right tools and knowledge will really pay off. For example, if you’re leaning over to grab a trophy sized pike and you hesitate just as the fish thrashes in the net, the situation could quickly get dangerous to both you and the fish.
Most multi-season, pike anglers know stories of hooks in hands and fish freak-outs. Being confident when handling pike will likely save you a hospital visit, but it can’t guarantee it.
Being patient comes into play on many levels in fishing, but let’s focus on how it relates to releasing these toothy brutes. After hooking a pike you intend to release (which should be almost always), you’re responsible to do it properly. Pike that battle hard during the fight may require time to recuperate before swimming away. It may take only 10 minutes or 20 minutes, but some pike may need more than an hour of boat-side support. One thing to remember is to avoid shallow water during hot months as this water doesn’t hold much oxygen. Bringing the fish out to a little deeper water will be advantageous to the fish. As a responsible angler, you must be patient enough to hold and support that fish as it regains its strength before being able to strongly swim out of your hands. If you’re not prepared to spend the time to properly release a fish, you shouldn’t be fishing in the first place. It’s that simple.
Being organized is more than just having the right tools and gear accessible in a tidy and hazard-free boat. It’s also fishing with a partner and knowing your responsibilities once a fish is hooked. While one battles the fish, the other should ready the release tools, camera, measuring tape, and landing device.
Having a plan for playing and releasing fish, and keeping all tools needed within reach, reduces handling time and overall stress to the fish. Furthermore, a planned and properly executed process for landing, handling and releasing fish will ensure the fish is kept in the water as much as possible.
Key to any successful release is keeping the fish (especially its head) in the water at all times, and only removing it for a quick photo if necessary. Some anglers let the fish recuperate in a net or cradle after the hooks are removed before handling the pike again to take a picture. When photographing a fish, a good rule of thumb is to hold your breath as you lift the fish out of the water. When you need to breathe, so does the fish, and it should quickly be returned to the water to minimize harm.
Try these tips the next time you’re on the water to protect this outstanding resource.
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