How To Handle And Hold Coarse Fish The Right Way

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

Over many years fish care has been evolving and improved vastly. It has far more visibility to the public than before and we must preserve this and protect the species. It is the massive interest in carp fishing in the UK which has made this subject far more visible and also 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 of being 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 guides as pointers to 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 then not using it correctly. Make sure all the equipment is ready for use before fishing.

When you set up, make sure that you layout your unhooking mat and set up your landing net before you cast a rod.

Tripod, Scales, weigh sling, forceps and camera should be near to you so that everything is in reach as soon as a fish is landed.

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

This preparation upfront will help to 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 Best Carp Fishing Cradles – And How To Use 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 and 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 then return the fish to the water with care. Make sure you never drop a fish, otherwise it can receive serious injuries.

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

Never place a fish directly onto the bank or hard surface, use an unhooking mat on a soft flat surface. If possible onto the wet grass.

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

Always keep the fish wet with water, have a bucket of water nearby your cradle

Fish 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 type of physical damage by applying an anti-bacterial solution to the wound.

Apply Wound Treatments

Please examine the fish for any damage cuts, hook marks and sores – Always keep any treatment away from the gills and eyes of the fish.

These days specimen and carp anglers will carry a fish care kit, it should be everyone to invest in this. Korda Propolis Carp Treatment is an excellent proven choice and is preferred by many responsible carp anglers.

Alternatively, if you want a treatment which is a little more affordable and does the same level of protection check out the API Melafix freshwater bacterial remedy liquid. It should be noted that this is not a localised 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 fish onto the unhooking mat, to prevent the fish from being damaged.

Remove the hook from the fish and ensure that any other tackle is moved out of the way from the fish and net.

Slide the fish into the wet weigh sling and weigh. The 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 then lift the carp clear of the ground holding the scales by the support ring above them. Try to keep the Carp above the mat.

If you are not taking any photographs, carry the carp back to the water within a sling or net, and make sure the fish is held securely.

At the edge of the water, hold your fish in an upright horizontal position and wait until it naturally moves away from your hands. Do not push it away.

Respect all fish regardless of size or species!

Care When Taking Photos Of Your Catch

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

Select a safe location for taking the photo, position 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, so as 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 warm and dry. There is a major risk that the protective slime from a fish will get removed, 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 Total 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.


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

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

If this article was helpful please take a look at my Fish Care articles