In fishing, so much of the time is spent locating a perfect spot, purchasing the ideal gear and hooking into fish. Once we hook into the fish and begin the fight, we’re concerned about getting the fish into our net.
It’s a stressful but exhilarating few minutes as we complete the fight. Where many anglers can get in trouble, myself included, is when it comes time to handle the fish.
In this article, I will cover all you need to know about the basics of unhooking mats and which are the best buying options.
What Is An Unhooking Mat?
Unhooking mats are essentially a foam-filled flatbed for fish used by anglers when unhooking a large fish. Anglers will lay their catch on the mat safely without worrying that the fish will harm itself if it makes any sudden movements.
The unhooking mat comes in various shapes and forms and is used when a fish of 5 lbs or more is too large to unhook safely by hand.
These mats are typically used for removing hooks from carp, tench and catfish. Fish can safely move around on the soft mat while it calms themselves down. These mats often have measurement systems printed on the inner portion, making measuring fish length much easier. Overall, it’s an efficient system that allows you to better care for your fish while still enjoying your catch.
It has a protective fabric and foam centre that provides a comfortable location for your fish.
My 5 Best Carp Unhooking Mat Recommendations
Whilst unhooking mats aren’t the most popular tool used by anglers. All specimen carp anglers in the UK will own one in addition to a carp cradle. Many fisheries will not allow entry to their fishing lakes without their use of them.
Every angler should be vested in keeping fish safe and willing to put a little extra work and money into purchasing a mat.
Preston Korum Snapper Perch Weighing Mat – My Best Overall Pick!
The Preston Korum Snapper Perch Mat is a wonderful option for your next unhooking mat. While it’s a bit on the smaller side, it has a wonderful design and great features that combine many of your needs. There’s a measuring tape, and a weigh sling to get a full measurement of your fish. Plus, this mat is made using a durable waterproof Supa Lite material
The best part of this mat is that it’s extremely portable. Similar to a sleeping pad for backpacking, this unhooking mat rolls up so you can hook it to your pack and carry it around as you traverse the banks of the water you’re fishing. All you have to do is unroll the mat, and it’s ready for use.
At fully open, the mat measures 70cm long and 30cm wide, which isn’t the largest unhooking mat you’ll find, but it will still hold a decent-sized fish. Another great feature is that it has reinforced D Loops for clipping to any kit bag.
JRC Defender Flat Fold Mat – My Most Versatile Pick!
The JRC Defender Flat Fold is another great mat for anglers who like to move around as much as possible. The mat provides a massive 50mm of foam padding, and you even have a velcro-down safety flap for the fish.
If you’re fishing with the landing mat during some rough weather, you’ll find four pin-down points that will keep it in place during challenging conditions. A waterproof carrying bag allows you to store and clean it without getting the inside of your vehicle wet. Plus, it’s not going to break the bank.
With a 112cm long and 76cm wide size, this is one of the largest mats available and is a truly diverse option that works excellently.
JRC also have an option for a roll-up mat, which is slightly smaller than the JRC flat fold mat.
Tongina Unhooking Mat – My Best Beginners Pick!
The Tongina Unhooking Mat is a budget-friendly and low-profile mat. It’s lightweight and has the basic necessities you need when purchasing your first unhooking mat. Carp mats are often a bit excessive when it comes to features, so they’re challenging to transport.
This mat is the cheapest option out on my list. However, the affordable price doesn’t come without a few cons. First, it can soak up a bit of water, so make sure to air it well once you’re done using it. Also, it’s not overly thick at 5mm, but it will suffice for a basic-level option!
It folds in three, has elastic straps and does the job. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it’s great for someone who isn’t looking for the nicest unhooking mat on the market. This is a great mat for younger anglers or beginners. With a length of 100cm and a width of 60cm, it’s a decent size for the money you pay
Carp On – Beanie Unhooking Mat
The Carp On Beanie Unhooking Mat is a more affordable option for anglers looking to make the most of their time fishing while moving. Anglers who move around have difficulty bringing the unhooking mat with them. The Carp-On Beanie mat is quite a bit easier to move around other than most. The material is 210D nylon, a lightweight, flexible, and strong fabric. It has a smooth finish and green sheen, which will help protect your fish.
At 115cm long and 60cm wide, it’s a good size. The 5cm padding is also better than most available on the market, given the price bracket.
This can fold in half and can easily be attached to a backpack or fishing vest if you’re planning on being on the move. Many mats are a bit more rigid and difficult to manoeuvre, so if ease of transportation is a priority, the Carp-On Beanie is a versatile buying option.
This mat is a great option for those not targeting specimen carp but will manage fish easily up to 25 lbs.
Wychwood Beanie Unhooking Mat
The Wychwood Beanie Unhooking mat is another practical, portable option for anglers who like to move around as they’re fishing. It has 40mm foam padding at the bottom and is made with a water-resistant 600D polyester, known for being more durable and affordable than nylon. This fabric is twice as thick as 200D nylon. You can easily clean it, and it won’t soak everything you own as you transport it.
Sling it over your shoulder with the padded shoulder strap and move it to your next location. The four pegging points will keep it in place regardless of your fishing conditions.
This mat is one of the largest available at 120cm long, with a huge 85cm width. It will fit some of those big carp you find yourself catching! Wychwood is a reliable fishing company with various great tackle options, including mats and rods.
I purchased this mat several years ago, and I still use this today. It is robust and made from quality materials, and with a thickness of 12cm, it’s the best of all of my picks.
How Do I Use An Unhooking Mat?
Depending on the unhooking mat you purchase, it may be as simple as laying it on the ground. Some more advanced models have metal legs you can unfold to get the mat further off the ground. These models are known as cradles and make it even easier for you to reach down and use, but they aren’t as portable as some of the mat types.
Once your fish is close, get ready to land it with your net. Once the fish is inside your landing net, you can immediately place it on the unhooking mat without using your hands.
Always make sure you wet your hands before you handle the fish. You don’t want to ruin the protective slime covering!
When you’re on the unhooking mat, take your disgorger or forceps and remove the hook as soon as possible. Once the hook is removed, you can weigh the fish and take a quick photograph if needed.
Why Do I Need An Unhooking Mat?
After landing any large fish, many anglers rush around scrambling to remove the fish from the landing net, move the fish to take photos or weigh the fish to see if it is a good size fish. During this process, anglers typically drop the fish, grip it too hard or keep it out of the water for too long.
Secondly, the ground around the fishing bank is usually hard and offers very few grassy areas to place the fish. These carp mats can give all the protection needed to avoid any damage to the fish whilst it is out of the water.
Anglers today are under more scrutiny to take care of the fish, especially in commercial or syndicate fisheries.
Who Uses Unhooking Mats?
Today, all carp anglers use an unhooking mat and a cradle. However, many other large-sized freshwater species, such as tench, catfish, and bream, require mats. It is becoming more of a best practice to keep your fish as safe as possible throughout the entire catch and release process.
Back in the 1990’s carp anglers had very basic mats to place their fish on and cradles were unheard of 30 years ago. Anglers have now become far warier and more concerned about taking care of fish and the environment, and tackle companies have developed many new and improved styles and designs.
How To Clean An Unhooking Mat?
Unhooking mats collect fish slime and also dirt from lying on the ground. The easiest way to clean your mat after every fishing trip is to wash it with soapy water, a hose down with water, and then hang it in the sun to dry.
Drying your mat in the sun is extremely important to kill off any bacteria that can spread diseases, such as KHV, between any fisheries you frequent.
What Are The Alternatives To Using A Unhooking Mat?
Most anglers carry an unhooking mat; if you do not own one, the best option is to lay the fish on soft, lush wet grass. This will prevent the fish’s scales and body from getting injured, but it is not as safe as using a proper mat.
I strongly encourage all anglers to buy and use an unhooking fish mat. They are relatively inexpensive and can certainly help protect the fish that you catch.