Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Handle with Care the Catch-and-Release Method Doesn't Work If the Fish Don't Live

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Handle with Care the Catch-and-Release Method Doesn't Work If the Fish Don't Live

Article excerpt

Some years ago I hooked a 10-inch trout on Pine Creek near one of the Rte. 8 bridges. Landing it, I noticed a foot of monofilament line sticking out of its mouth, a curiosity I had seen before on other fish.

What really surprised me, however, was another foot of line sticking out its back side. With the hook still attached.


Weeks before, apparently, the trout had taken live bait and the hook was set deep in its throat. The line snapped and despite the injury, the hardy fish had continued feeding. The hook and line traveled completely through its digestive system. Presumably, in the weeks after I released the fish, it continued feeding and the line continued passing through.

Despite the delicate nature of many fish species, some survive with an impaled hook. And though they endure the hook-up, the fight and time out of the water many die from the consequences of mishandling by the conservationist anglers who released them. Biological and fungal infections, broken bones and suffocation are a few of the ways catch-and-release anglers kill fish.

Last week, special no-harvest regulations kicked in on 20 Southwest Pennsylvania lakes, streams and river sections designated Stocked Trout Waters Open to Year-Round Fishing.

Greensburg spin fisherman Doug Leichliter worried about poorly handled trout that won't make it to opening day. He posted his concerns at The Fishing Hole, a public comment board on the state Fish and Boat Commission website.

"I've had a lot of preseason fun at a number of area lakes, especially Mammoth and Twin Lakes here in Westmoreland County," he wrote. "... That said, I've become very concerned with how I've observed other anglers catch fish and then release them during this early season opportunity. I've seen entirely too many instances where the trout have been treated like some farm pond bluegill or bass -hooks pulled out and fish summarily tossed back into the water without much care or concern given to its long-term survival and the chance the fish will be caught again."

Leichliter's message caught the attention of Fish and Boat Coldwater Unit leader Tom Greene.

"As you pointed out, hooking mortality can occur if anglers don't take some basic precautions when releasing their catch," he replied. "This not only applies to the March 1 to opening-day period on these lakes but anytime during the year when anglers intend to release their catch."

Greene noted that fish handling guidelines were published in the Summary of Fishing Regulations and Laws booklet provided with fishing licenses from 1991 through 2015. Perhaps through an oversight, he said, the best-practices chapter didn't make it into the 2016 Summary Book. Search for keywords "fish handling" at for advice on how to release fish without causing additional injury. …

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