University of Florida

Releasing a Caught Fish

Fishing in Florida can serve as a recreational activity, a profitable business, or a way of life for residents. Since more and more people are fishing, however, practicing ethical angling will preserve fresh and saltwater fish populations.

Improving Fish Survival

While fishing, you may have to catch and release a fish back into the water because of regulations regarding size, limits, and seasons.

Use the following tips to increase the survival rates of caught fish.

  • Because time is essential to keeping a fish alive, have a plan ready for releasing fish.
  • Know what tackle to use for certain situations. For example, circle hooks are a great tool because fish are usually hooked in the jaw, not in the stomach.
  • Only gaff a fish when you know you can keep it.
  • Use the apprporiate tackle weight to reel in the fish quickly. 
  • Remove hooks with pliers or a hook-removal device.
  • If you can’t find or see the hook, then cut the line as close as possible to where it is located—the hook will eventually dissolve inside the fish.

Handling and Releasing Fish

Although the amount of time a fish can live out of water depends on many different factors, the less time the fish is out of water the better.

Understand these tips about handling and releasing fish to minimize the stress on the fish and to reduce its time out of water.

  • Do your best to release the fish while it’s still in the water.
  • Don’t lift the fish from the water by the line—instead, lift the fish with your hands supporting the body. 
  • Only use tools or your wet hands to handle the fish.
  • Do not remove the fish’s slime, which guards it from infection.
  • Hold the fish horizontally when inspecting or photographing the fish—do not hold the fish by its jaw, because its organs can become damaged. Also, try to photograph the fish while it's in the water.
  • When releasing the fish, gently place it headfirst in the water. Note that opening the fish’s mouth slightly and pushing the fish forward will move water over its gills to help revive it.
  • As soon as a fish appears it’s ready to swim away, then let go of it immediately to avoid causing more stress.  
  • If a fish’s swimbladder is protruding from its mouth, then venting the fish may be necessary.

Whether you fish for fun or for profit, catching and releasing fish correctly will help increase the survival of released fish and help maintain fish populations for the future.

Adapted and excerpted from:

B. Staugler, “A Fish Out of Water,” UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension (10/2013).

"Catch and Release Fishing," Florida Sea Grant (Accessed 08/2014).

Fish Handling and Gear,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Accessed 08/2014).


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