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A Surprise

by Phillip Dobson
(Butte, MT)

I haven't been doing too much noteworthy tenkara fishing of late. Mostly just alternating between the 4wt and Sagiri depending on the mood of the moment. Also a lot of lawn practicing with the heavy saltwater kit. Les' writeup on bull trout has me excited for them, but the water isn't open yet.

That said, Montana is warming up, and that means caddis. I went down to the river today to see if they were out yet. The bugs are definitely flying, but the fish don't want to come to the surface. I gave up on the dry fly, tied on a small sparkly nymph and worked my way back to the car. I dropped the fly deep into a hole and snagged yet another heavy branch. I moved to give it a tug when I felt the first head-shake. A fish! A big fish! I coaxed the trout out of the depths and into a spectacular jump. He was definitely the largest Brown I'd hooked on any tackle.

The "fight" was all about working with the fish and trying not to break anything. The Sagiri doesn't have much backbone, and 6.5x tippet isn't really enough to put up much of a fight. After a few stressful minutes I had a 20" brown trout on shore. I'm happy the water temperature is now ideal for his metabolic recovery. He'll be back to terrorizing the little (and not so little) fish in no time.

Comments for A Surprise

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May 06, 2017
by: Les A.

Phillip. That is one of the most beautiful brown trout I have ever seen. Looks nice and healthy. What river were you fishing? Thanks for sharing your adventure.

May 06, 2017
nice fish greart photo
by: Doug

There is more and more evidence that the fish is much more likely to recover if it is kept in the water and not laid on the ground. Best to give us a photo of a wet head and leave the rest under water and up to imagination!

May 06, 2017
Keep 'em wet
by: Chris Stewart

I have heard similar comments from lots of sources (all on the internet, and as we all know, everything on the internet is true). I think I'd like to dig a bit deeper.

Someone, somewhere must have done some actual scientific research on this. Can anyone cite sources where I can see what the research actually says?

May 06, 2017
by: Phillip

This was on the upper Clark by the Ponds.

I try hard to keep the fish happy in the water. In this case the fish was too strong and my net is being repaired. I had to beach him on the mud to get the fly out.

I think it's a mucus issue that increases mortality. I did read a somewhat anecdotal study that took place in a private pond in Britain. If the fishermen wore gloves, the fish they caught would turn up dead the next day. No gloves, no dead fish. Dry surfaces rub the protective mucus off. Keep the fish wet, keep your hands wet (which sucks in winter!), and use a rubber net for optimal survival.

May 06, 2017
mortality research
by: Doug

I'm away from my computer so digging up actual research is tough. I have a reference from a hatchery which found brook trout did not fair too bad out of the the water. I'm sure the slime issue is important, and I know of a study which found that large fish suffer head trauma and die if they flop on hard ground. I found this, but could not find the actual study cited:

"each second you keep a fish out of water decreases its chance of survival. In a Canadian study, rainbow trout kept out of the water for 30 seconds had more than double the mortality of those left in the water. Rainbows left out of the water for 60 seconds had 6 times the mortality of those kept in the water! Holding a fish up for a picture may be a death sentence."

May 06, 2017
by: Chris Stewart

A couple people have sent email with resources for further study.

ENSURING FISH SURVIVE AFTER RELEASE is an article on the website. The article cites a number of sources on a wide range of C&R practices and post release mortality. Unfortunately, not one of the studies cited mentions laying a fish on the ground.

KEEPEMWET.ORG gives a number of best practices and tips. On their website, under the Media section, some scientific studies are cited. None mentions laying a fish on the ground.

One article giving best practices cites many scientific studies. Do a Google search for Best practices for catch-and-release recreational fisheries – anglingtools and tactics. Unfortunately, it also does not mention laying fish on the ground.

The studies cited in the article that did specifically cover fungal infections caused by slime loss suggested it did not contribute to mortality in largemouth bass, but that use of landing nets caused greater mortality among bluegills than landing by hand (no mention of whether the hand was wet or dry).

Even something like the importance of handling a fish with wet hands, which nearly every angler takes as gospel, apparently has very little science to back it up. Phil Monahan wrote in "Orvis News" that he had asked Prof. Gary Grossman — distinguished research professor of animal ecology at the University of Georgia, who said "Conceptually, the idea is that dry hands dislodge the protective slime coating on the skin of trout and make it easier for infections to grow and penetrate the skin. Nonetheless, there is little scientific evidence that dry hands alone cause dislodgment of protective slime. It is clear that handling itself, regardless of how damp your hands are, is the major cause of stress for fish."

I am not saying you should grab your fish with dry hands and throw it on the ground for a photo. All I'm saying is that a lot of what we believe is not based on hard science. So, I wouldn't be so hard on someone whose fish handling is not what you believe it should be. The science might not be on your side.

May 06, 2017
Best practices
by: Hoppy D (SD)

For information about science-based handling of fish in a catch-and-release situation, go to:

keepemwet dot org slash keepemwet dash news dash 1 slash

Slide down to the article from January 02, 2017, entitled "Best Practices For Catch-n-Release Recreational Fisheries--Angling Tools and Tactics." When there, click on the "Read More" button.

(Nice brown, Phillip!!)

May 08, 2017
death rates
by: Doug

Sorry to drag this out, but I found some disturbing actual numbers in the research. We all do our best to avoid killing fish we did not mean to kill I had seen some very good stats for C & R in the past, but the Canadian study is on keepemwet dot org

Fish worked to exhustion survived 90% Of the time. Exhustion plus 30 seconds out of water it dropped to 60%. Exhustion plus 60 seconds out of water resulted in a 60% death rate.

i'm goung to carry my net more often, be better about crimpimg barbs, use my hook remover more, and eat more of the fish I hook deeply. I think I will go to heavier tippets too and land them faster. Chris always gets me a quick replacement when I break a section of a rod!

May 08, 2017
use a BIG net
by: Jeff D

After watching several trout go belly up after release (swim a little bit then just flop over and sink) after what I thought to be quite minimal handling out of the water, I've thought about this quite a bit. I think trout are rather "fragile" relative to the average warm water fish. Granted, the trout in question were stocker bows at MO trout parks, but still I hate to see any fish die unnecessarily. If I kill 'em it's because I'm going to eat 'em. This was in the C&R only season so it bothered me.

Here's what I've come up with. It really helps when trying to get a fish photo if you use a net that is big enough that the fish can lay stretched out in it. I carry one of those "measuring" nets that is MUCH larger than most of the trout I catch. Granted it's a bit of a pain to carry, but it is extensible and really makes netting a fish much easier and also makes photography easier.

I net the fish, and they usually unhook themselves at this point because I've transitioned to all barbless hooks for trout, and without line tension the fly just falls out. Then I lay the fish in the net in shallow water, just deep enough to cover the fish, get a quick pic and let them go.

Sometimes they flop out. Sometimes there's not shallow water handy. Sometimes they refuse to be photogenic. I have more than one picture of a blurry silver thing exiting the net mid-thrash. Them's the breaks.

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“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin

"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." Col. Robert Venables 1662

As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.


The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.

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