Catch-and-Release Fishing

Many anglers choose to release the fish they catch. However, sometimes fish are so injured by the catch that their odds of surviving back in the water are poor. Here are some tips to improve a fish's chances of living to fight another day:

  • Keep the fight short by using heavier tackle.
  • Use a circle hook or crush the barb on a J-hook to avoid injuring the fish.
  • Never keep a fish out of the water longer than you can hold your breath.
  • The slime that covers a fish protects it from infection, so use wet hands or gloves when you handle the fish. A dehooker lets you remove the hook without touching the fish.
  • Never dangle a fish by its jaw, and always support its body with your hands.
  • When releasing a deep-sea bottomfish, use a venting tool to relieve the air from the fish's air bladder.

Using good catch-and-release practices will help ensure the fish survives after being released.

Keeping a Fishing Log

With so many factors affecting whether or not fish bite, recording details about the conditions after each trip will help you recognize patterns in fish behavior. Note the moon phase, tide phase, cloud cover, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, air and water temperature, and precipitation. Also record what baits worked, how the fish responded and the most productive locations.

At the beginning of each fishing season, review your notes from previous years to look for conditions or tackle that were productive. Getting in the habit of keeping a fishing journal will get you in the habit of catching more fish.

Keeping and Cleaning Your Fish

Properly storing and cleaning your fish is the first step to preparing it for the table. As soon as you land a fish, put it on ice. Be sure the ice drains as it melts. To improve the quality of the meat, drain the blood by cutting the fish across a major artery. Sharks and salmon should be gutted as soon as they are landed and immediately packed with ice. A fish can be scaled, filleted or steaked. Use a super-sharp knife with a long, thin blade to make the job easier. Rubber gloves will help you grip the slimy fish more securely and protect your hands if the knife slips. Rinse the meat and return it to the ice.

Once you get home, you can keep the meat in the refrigerator for up to five days. Use a vacuum sealer to pack fish that will be frozen. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, put the meat in a bag that seals and add water until the fish is covered. Squeeze out any excess air and seal the bag, then put it in the freezer. Always thaw meat in the refrigerator and eat it immediately.

Getting Started

You've decided to go fishing and have enough tackle and knowledge to get started. Where do you go first?

Your local tackle shop is the best place to find out where the fish are biting and how to catch them. Tell the shop employees what you want to catch, and they will set you up with tackle and point you toward the best fishing spots.

Most coastal towns have an angler's club where local fishermen gather to swap fish stories and plan fishing trips. These clubs are great places to connect with other anglers.

A number of books and magazines provide comprehensive instructions on every aspect of fishing. Outdoor magazines and newspapers will also keep you up-to-date on current events in the fishing community.

Web sites and message boards are good online sources of current fishing reports and how-to information. Many of these cyber fishing sites spill over into the real world when members get together for events and tournaments.

One of the best ways to learn the ropes is to hire a local guide. Look for a skipper who specializes in working with new anglers. You'll have the opportunity to see the most productive tactics in action and find some new fishing holes, too.

Conservation and Regulations

It is up to individual anglers to follow local fishing regulations and participate in conservation efforts. Each state has publications and Web sites that detail local and federal regulations on minimum size and bag limits for the most popular fish. Fishing clubs and Web sites are good places to learn about environmental and management issues facing local anglers. To be good stewards of fishing resources, each angler has the responsibility to follow regulations and participate in fisheries management.

Anchoring

Anchoring — situating a boat over a reef or in swift current, for example — is one of the most difficult maneuvers in fishing. However, proper equipment will make a difficult job more manageable.

Start with an anchor rope that is at least five times as long as the depth of the water, a section of chain that equals the length of the boat and an anchor that will dig into the bottom. The tricky part comes when positioning the boat over a structure:

  • Pull the boat directly over the structure.
  • Take it out of gear and drift away.
  • Using the GPS and compass, return past the structure using the same course as when you drifted away.

The tricky part comes when predicting how far up wind and up current to deploy the anchor:

  • Pull ahead of the structure far enough to let the anchor hit the bottom and dig into the substrate.
  • Once the boat comes to rest, let out or pull in anchor line to properly position the boat. Be sure to leave enough scope in the line so that the boat and rise and fall on the waves.
  • To pull the anchor, take up slack in the line until the rope is straight up and down. Then cleat off the line and motor the boat ahead slowly to free the hook.

Freeing snagged lures and rigs

Losing tackle to snags is frustrating, time consuming and expensive. With a little patience and finesse, the rig can usually be freed from the structure. When you detect your lure or rig has become snagged, set the reel in freespool to prevent digging the hook deeper into the snag. Then, run the boat past the structure in the opposite direction the hook was snagged. Tighten the line and jerk the rod tip to free the hook. Bottom fishermen will often use a lighter leader to their sinkers so they can easily break off a snagged weight without losing their whole rig.

Finding Wrecks, Reef and Other Structures

One good way to find fish is to find the structure where they live. The best place to look for these structures is on a nautical chart. Several companies make special charts with popular wrecks, reefs and other fishing areas marked and coordinates noted. Artificial reefs will be documented by the organizations that sponsored them. Local tackle shops will often have publications that list the coordinates of hotspots. Dive shops and clubs are also good sources of information on area reefs.