The Angler’s Guide To Properly Handling & Holding Fish With Care

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As fishermen, we must protect and care for fish correctly when fishing. Good handling is important for all of us as fishing citizens to protect nature and its gift to us.

Over many years, fish care has evolved and improved vastly. It has far more visibility to the public than before, and we must preserve this and protect the species. The massive interest in carp fishing has made this subject far more visible and has now spread to other species.

When I started fishing, there was no such thing as an unhooking mat or a cradle. During my 40 years as a fisherman, the expectation now is that we all take care of the carp, tench, and any other fish as best as possible.

In this guide, I will share that experience and give you an insight into this sometimes sensitive subject.

Fish care and safe handling is, of course, a matter of common sense and respect for the fish that you catch. Use the following guidelines as pointers to the safe handling of your catches.

Essential Equipment For Unhooking A Fish

When you have caught a large fish, you must have all your gear ready; at a minimum, make sure you have the following with you:

  • Disgorger and forceps.
  • Quality unhooking mat suitable for large fish or cradle
  • Weigh sling
  • Anti-bacterial solutions suitable for fish
  • A bucket of water
  • Tripod and scales
  • Camera or phone

Preparation Is Key

There is no point in having all the best expensive equipment and not using it correctly. Make sure all the equipment is ready for use before fishing.

When you set up, make sure you lay out your unhooking mat and set up your landing net before casting a rod.

Tripods, scales, weigh slings, forceps, and your camera should be near you so that everything is within reach as soon as a fish is landed.

Always keep your unhooking mat and cradle damp so it is less likely to damage a fish.

This upfront preparation will help keep the fish out of the water to a minimum. Allow the fish to recover in the net before taking it to the mat.

You can learn more about my choices for the best carp fishing cradles and tips on using them correctly.

Handling Your Fish Once You Have Caught It

Again, Don’t keep fish out of water for a long time.

Always handle fish with wet hands and apply water before handling. The Slime on fish protects the fish from disease, so be careful not to damage the protective slime.

Lift the fish in the net from the water, place it on the mat or inside a cradle, unhook it, and then move the tackle to one side.

If not weighing or taking photographs, return the fish to the water carefully. Ensure you never drop a fish; otherwise, it can cause serious injuries.

Never move a large fish without wrapping it in a wet sling or net.

Never place a fish directly onto the bank or hard surface; always use an unhooking mat on a soft, flat surface. If you don’t have a mat, place the fish gently onto the wet grass and unhook.

Fish expend much of their energy when caught and must be allowed to rest for a few minutes before returning to the water or being photographed.

Carp cradle and carp
Always keep the fish wet with water, and have a
bucket of water near your cradle

How To Use Carp Care Treatments

Fish receive knicks and scrapes all the time, and wounds can be easily infected by bacteria that are present in the water. Bacteria and parasites all have the ability to kill fish. We can help fish with any physical damage by applying an anti-bacterial solution to the wound.

Apply Wound Treatments

Over the past twenty years, fish welfare has gathered momentum, and specimen and carp anglers will always carry a fish care kit. Everyone should invest in a care kit, whatever type of fishing you do. While practising catch-and-release fishing techniques, the Korda propolis carp treatment is an excellent proven choice and is preferred by many responsible carp anglers.

Please carefully examine the fish for damage cuts, hook marks, and sores. Apply the treatment directly on the wounds, but always keep any lotion away from the gills and eyes of the fish.

Alternatively, if you want a much more affordable treatment with the same level of protection, check out the API Melafix freshwater bacterial remedy liquid. It should be noted that this is not a localized mouth and small area application and is used more as a fix for fish with known bacterial issues on their scales, such as large wounds.

Care While Weighing Your Fish

Whilst the fish is in the landing net, place the net onto the unhooking mat, then lift the fish from the landing net onto the wetted mat. This will prevent any damage to the scales and body of the fish.

Remove the hook from the fish and ensure any other tackle is moved completely away from the fish and net. This will make it easier and safer to remove the hook using a disgorger or forceps.

Slide the fish into the wet weigh sling and weigh. The weighing scales must be pre-set to zero with just the wet sling attached and be positioned near the mat.

l, find it easiest to slide the weigh sling under the fish rather than lift the fish from one place to another. Once in the sling, attach the scales to the links provided and lift the fish from the ground, holding them by the support ring above them. Try to keep the fish above the mat at all times.

If you are not taking any photographs, carry the fish back to the water in a sling or net and hold it securely.

Hold your fish at the water’s edge in an upright, horizontal position and wait until it naturally moves away from your hands. Do not push or force the fish away; let it get its breath back slowly.

Respect all fish regardless of size or species!

How To Take Photos Of Your Catch

Before even thinking about getting a picture or weighing a fish, keep it calm and under control. Wet hands will help. If a fish is flapping about, cover its eyes with the landing net mesh.

Select a safe location for taking the photo, position the unhooking mat plus wet covering, etc., and have the camera or phone ready. Always kneel down when holding the fish, support it properly and keep it close to the ground, always over an unhooking mat.

You need to hold the fish with both hands, like cradling a baby and offer as much support to the fish as possible whilst keeping your arms clear of the front to get the best picture.

When the picture has been taken, place the fish back on the mat or sling and return it quickly to the water.

This is best done in the sling or on the mat if it doubles up as both. Never pick up a fish and walk it to the water, as it might wriggle free and fall to the ground.

Again, fish must always be handled with wet hands. Why? The water is cold and wet, and our hands are warm and dry. There is a major risk that the protective slime from a fish will get removed using hands; they will wriggle more and be harder to handle. Never use a towel or piece of cloth to hold a fish. This will also take the slime off the fish and leave it vulnerable to infection.

Treat The Fish With Respect

Before weighing and taking photos, check the fish is not under any stress. Be sure to return the fish as quickly as possible with minimum fuss.

Always Keep The Fish Wet

One of the most important items an angler must remember is to have a bottle or preferably a bucket of water ready and keep the fish wet whilst on the mat.

Final Thoughts

Always make sure you follow the right ways to hold and handle fish.

Many anglers follow the guidelines, however, but beginners need some education from us all when starting fishing. Hopefully, this article will help make that process a little easier to understand the reasons.

I hope this article was helpful and gave you a good insight into how to take care of fish properly. You can learn more about fish care and how you, as an angler, can be more responsible.

Steve Fitzjohn