a fat and colour rainbow trout that is displayed next to a river with a rocky bottom and fly fishing rod

Catch and Release Fishing -A Step By Step Guide On How To Do It

Published on: March 12th, 2020 at 2:53 pm

Today I wanted to digress a little bit from the general topic of budget and outdoor adventure travel that I try and focus on with most blog posts. As you may have seen lately I have released a few blogs on various fishing trips, check them out, that I have been lucky enough to complete while travelling. It has been a hobby of mine ever since I was a kid and growing up I did plenty of trips with both family and friends. In fact, one of the hardest things I’ve had to part with as a result of going travelling was my beloved fishing boat, it still makes me sad when I realise it’s no longer in the shed of my parents when I go home. But today I wanted to bring some attention to one important message that people should think about when going fishing, whether it be while on holiday or in the home town. That topic is “catch and release fishing” and more specifically how to catch and release fish correctly. 

The ultimate guide on how to catch and release a fish

When participating in any outdoor recreation activity, it is important to keep the environment in mind. Fishing is a well-loved sport, by me and many others, but it is essential that as we enjoy our fishing waters, rods, and reels, we take a moment to understand what stress we put on our underwater ecosystems.

What is catch and release fishing?

What is catch and release fishing you ask? Catch and release fishing is the practice of releasing fish back into their environment once caught, usually with the aid of special catch and release hooks. Historically, this has always been a very common practice, officially becoming a widespread part of fishing in the 1970s. Today, anglers might decide to catch and release if a fish isn’t adequately sized, not a tasty table fish or to conserve a species. To do this correctly it is important to start fishing with circle hooks or other catch and release fishing hooks that are now on the market in all good fishing stores.

a peaty crucian carp being released back into the waters correctly after being caught
A fisherman releasing his catch unharmed and ready to experience another day with correct catch and release techniques

The importance of catch and release fishing

Today, more than at any other time, fish face overfishing, habitat degradation, plus the ever-growing human population, and catch and release fishing is a useful way to combat these issues.

Fish are important parts of underwater ecosystems, and studies show that allowing fish to live out their complete life span allows them to positively contribute to their environment and reproduce to continue the effect.

Native fish species recycle nutrients-breaking down elements between organic and inorganic parts of the ecosystem and reusing them. This is extremely important because the energy flow is vital to an ecosystem’s survival, and fish control that. Overfishing can endanger these essential partakers in the ecosystem and leave habitats completely degraded.

How do you catch and release fish safely?

In presenting this problem to a fellow fisherman or fishery biologist, most would suggest the practice of catch and release fishing. As addressed, this is a useful way to preserve threatened fish species and in addition, return fish that don’t meet legal requirements back into their environments. Catch and release trout fishing has now burst onto the fishing scene in recent years. However, as simple as the concept seems, poor catch and release techniques can threaten the survival rates of said releases. So how can anglers ensure the survival rates of their releases?

First off, make sure you’re using quality equipment that is powerful enough to easily land the catch you’re pursuing. Lightweight lines encourage fish to struggle, which puts unnecessary stress on the organism. Invest in barbless or circle hooks so that you can quickly dehook your catch and return it to the water as soon as possible, find the best hooks for catch and release fishing at your local tackle store or see the catch and release fish hooks I suggest here. Set and remove hooks quickly to reduce the likelihood of your fish swallowing the hook. Considering the goal is to successfully release an organism back into its environment, it is vital to conserve as much of your catch’s energy as possible.

Limit your catch’s exposure to air. When removed from a normal underwater environment, the sudden change in pressure can place stress on a fish’s body. In fact, a fish’s gills are known to collapse as well as swim bladders to rupture as a result of this. Make their surfacing brief, dehook your catch-size them quickly and send them on their way.

In instances of emergency, don’t hesitate to leave a deeply stuck hook in a fish. Cut your line and release the catch. Considering the organism’s chances of survival after release, it is a better idea to leave a hook be than to deeply injure the fish.

Handle fish with care. Keep the fish wet and be mindful of the pressure you are applying to the fish while holding it. Remember to never hold a fish by its gills. Handling fish improperly can damage internal organs.

Release fish back into the water correctly. To revive a fish before release, it is important to have a basic understanding of how they take in oxygen. Fish do not swim backwards, so the common method of pulling a fish forward as well as backwards through the water before release is not effective and can actually be harmful to the organism. In addition, always release a fish right side up, as fish can suffocate or become disoriented if done otherwise.


1. Use fish-friendly, quality equipment.

2. Limit air exposure.

3. Handle organisms with care.

4. Revive and release fish correctly.

Do these four things right and you should be confident your fish will survive the epic struggle you both shared.

A fly fisherman holding a fario trout fish in his hands just in the water
Fly-fisherman holding a fario trout caught in the river he is standing in

Should you always catch and release when fishing?

While catch and release fishing can be beneficial in most circumstances, involving the practice in deep water fishing is risky business. What is the catch and release policy in deep water you ask? Let’s have a closer look.

Unlike the more commonly fished types, deep water fish species are highly susceptible to shock in the drastic pressure changes that come with landing a catch. This shock is called barotrauma, which results in ruptured swim bladders and collapsed gills.  

As mentioned above, this is possible in other fish species. However, it is a far more common attribute of deep-water fishing because their bodies are physically incapable of adapting to pressure changes quickly. Deepwater fishing is not for the faint of heart. Having experience in catch and release is definitely a must-have. 

Is there a time when you shouldn’t catch and release fish?

It is wise to avoid stressors during extreme flows – when the effects of water pollution are extremely aggravated. Moreover, when waters are excessively hot, algae release toxins that reduce oxygen levels in water and clog a fishes’ gills. 

Fish can be put under excess stress during this time, so it is important to avoid fishing.  Stressed fish exhaust quickly and will have longer recovery times. 

Species you should always try to catch and release 

Species of fish protected under the law must always be released.  

Otherwise, simply be mindful of your catches, native species are incredibly important to their ecosystems. Keep a mental bank of endangered fish in your area and make smart decisions when you identify certain fish you catch. 

The following are various species of endangered fish:  

● Bluefin tuna 

● Humpback chub 

● Rio Grande silvery minnow 

● Adriatic sturgeon 

● Atlantic salmon 

● Woundfin 

As a rule, I usually always try and catch and release as many fish as possible safely when fishing especially when I’m fishing in fresh waterways for trout. There are nowadays a number of specific fishing waters that are compulsory to use this technic and I would encourage you to try and find some catch and release trout fishing near me.

Do fish die after catch and release? 

The truth is, despite our pure intentions, not all caught releases will survive. Thus, it is a fisherman’s responsibility to implement every possible strategy to preserve survival rates.   

It is important to understand that when we fish, we have an obligation to protect the ecosystems we tamper with. That’s the beauty of interacting with our environment. 

A fish that has been caught with a pink fishing lure
If you catch and release a fish the correct way then they should live to swim for many more days

Booking a Fishing Charter

With all the above being said, of course, it is still possible to go fishing and enjoy yourself in the process. I am a real outdoors lover and aim to combine my travels around the world with plenty of outdoor adventures. One of my favourite outdoor activities is certainly fishing but when travelling without my own fishing equipment I rely on finding local fishing charters to enjoy a successful day on the water.

You may have come across a couple of my blogs on this site about my adventures fishing in Cape Town for yellowtail tuna and near Barcelona for dorado and bluefish. These were just two of my recent trips I down with reliable local fishing charters that I found online. The best way I ensure the fishing charter is good is by booking through either Fishingbooker or TomsCatch

Both of the above services offer fishing charters all around the world, FishingBooker mainly in the USA and Africa while TomsCatch is a specialist in European areas such as Spain and Portugal. The good thing about these sites is they allow you to read past clients reviews and comments much like we can when booking a tour with companies like Viator or GetYourGuide or accommodation with Booking.com. You can also compare prices of charters in the same area which ensures your not only getting a quality charter but also one at a competitive price.

Go fishing while on your vacation

Now I hope you are all set to go fishing on your next vacation and you have the tools and resources to book a well organised and successful day on the water chasing fish. Remember to try and follow the basic steps of catch and release fishing where possible as well while out there.

If you want to read about any of my fishing trips in Cape Town, Spain or other destinations you can do so here. Likewise, if you have an interest in hiking or other outdoor excursions you can discover some of the best trips and tips I’ve shared for different travel adventures I have been on.

Go on a fishing trip when on your next holiday

Plan your trip

Book Your Flight

Heading to either Skyscanner or Momondo are my methods of choice for this. They are my favourite as they search for flights from different companies all over the world. You can filter the results to suit your needs and ensure you land the best price every-time.

Book Your Accommodation

This is an important part of any holiday you’re going on. Read all the reviews and get the right accommodation via TripAdvisor. They even show you the best prices available at the time for that room from suppliers like Booking.com.For booking a hostel your best bet is to start with HostelWorld or possible even use CouchSurfing if you’re on a real budget.

Book your fishing charter

If you are wanting to find a fishing charter in the area you are planning to travel to then by comparing charter on either Fishingbooker or TomsCatch will ensure you get a well-run trip at the best price. You can read past reviews from other passengers to ensure the trip is what you’re looking for.

Past fishing trips

I have always tried to combine my love for travelling with my love for being outdoors. Some of the most memorable trips have been fishing in Cape Town, South Africa for yellowfin tuna and catching dorado and bluefish in the Ebro Delta, Spain. You can look at all my fishing blogs by going here.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance is a must these days so you have a piece of mind you’re covered for anything that could go wrong while on your trip. I now never go on a trip away without travel insurance. I’ve been using World Nomads for the past few years.

My favourite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • SafetyWing (cheaper option to just cover you for health issues)

Looking for the best companies to save money with?

As I have been travelling frequently over the last few years I’ve learnt some great tools to use for saving money when travelling. I have a travel resource page that lists all the trusted companies I personally use and rely on. I think you will find them good as well.

I also have a couple of great blogs that share quick and easy ways to save money on flights or accommodation. Take a look and save some cash on your next trip.

The Best Place To Book Your Tours

If you are someone you likes to have the best tours in one place and read reviews from other travellers about their personal experiences of each different tour then the best platform to use is GetYourGuide.

They offer the best tours, have money-back offers in case your trip is cancelled and ensure the price of each tour is the lowest possible.

Other posts that might interest you:

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How to catch and release a fish when fishing
A catch and release fishing guide to ensure you do it correctly

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Last Updated on: May 26th, 2020 at 10:23 am

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