My little town is known for fishing. Every chance we get we are standing in the Chattahoochee with a pole in our hands. As we became quarantined, I noticed more and more people fishing the lower Chattahoochee and upper West Point Lake near me. Day after day the boat docks would become more and more packed, the pandemic giving more people reasons to leave home and go fish.
As I sat on the bank one evening, I observed a group of men fishing that looked to be in their late 50s. After seeing them cast out a few times I realized they were using minnows and came to the conclusion that they were fishing for crappie. Within the next 30 minutes they pulled in five or six crappies, keeping the big ones and releasing the small ones. I noticed the way they were releasing these small fish. After taking the hook out and showing their friends, they would just throw the fish back in the water. I’ve been taught at a young age to gently put the fish in the water, not knowing why but always listening to my dad. I never knew the impact that throwing the fish could have until Patagonia recently posted a picture on Instagram that said “Keep Fish Wet” with a link to the website.
Keep Fish Wet enforces the best practices to catch, handle, and release fish. Science shows that small changes in how an angler catches, handles, and releases a fish can have outcomes once that fish swims away. Having good practices increases survival rates of fish, it also helps fish return to normal behavior faster after being released. Keep Fish Wet has 3 principles to go by.
The first one is minimizing air exposure. Once they are out of water, fish’s gills often collapse, and their swim bladders can even rupture because of the sudden change in pressure. Fish often die from these injuries after they have been released. Making sure they get enough water after being caught is very important.
The second principle is to eliminate contact with dry surfaces. Contact with dry hard surfaces remove their protective mucus layer which in result increases the chances of catching a disease or having a fungal infection. Keeping fish in or over water with hands that are clean and wet will keep the fish disease free.
The last principle is to reduce handling time. Handling can be extremely stressful for fish. Most fish are still amped up once you have them in your hand. The release of glucose fuels their fight or flight response to being caught. The longer you handle a fish the more stressful it becomes for them. You can’t confuse seeing a fish swim away as if they are fine.
The vast majority of people have no idea about these principles. Prior to getting your fishing licenses you should be required to take a short course on what to do and what not to do. This problem may not seem like a big deal, but it makes a difference when it is recognized. We don’t need more people just throwing the fish back into the water. We should keep fish wet.