How Can I Safely Handle Fish Once I’ve Caught Them?

In this article, you will learn some helpful tips on how to safely handle fish once you have caught them. By following these guidelines, you can ensure the wellbeing of the fish and also protect yourself from any potential harm.

Firstly, it is important to wet your hands before handling the fish. This helps to reduce the amount of friction and prevents the removal of the fish’s protective slime layer, which is essential for their health. It is advisable to refrain from using towels or gloves, as they can damage the protective layer.

Secondly, it is recommended to handle fish with both hands. This provides better support and prevents any unnecessary stress or injury to the fish. Avoid squeezing or applying excessive pressure, as this can cause injuries or even lead to death in some cases.

Remember, handling fish with care is not only important for their survival, but it also ensures that you can enjoy the thrill of fishing responsibly.

Why is it important to handle fish safely?

When it comes to fishing, it’s not only about catching a fish, but also about how you handle them afterward. Properly handling fish ensures your own safety, preserves the fish’s quality, and minimizes stress on the fish. In this article, we will discuss the importance of safe fish handling and provide you with best practices to follow.

Preventing injury to yourself

Handling fish safely is crucial for your own well-being. Some fish have sharp teeth, spines, or fins that can cause injuries if mishandled. Additionally, certain species of fish may have toxins or bacteria on their skin that can be harmful if they come into contact with open cuts or wounds. By following proper fish handling techniques, you can prevent any potential injuries and ensure a pleasant fishing experience.

Preserving the fish’s quality

Proper fish handling also helps preserve the quality of the fish you catch. Fish that are mishandled and subjected to excessive squeezing, pressure, or dropping can suffer from internal injuries or bruising. These injuries can impact the taste, texture, and overall quality of the fish. By handling the fish carefully, you can maintain its freshness and flavor, making it more enjoyable to eat.

Minimizing stress on the fish

Fish experience stress when they are caught and handled. They are removed from their natural environment and exposed to unfamiliar surroundings, loud noises, and physical contact. By minimizing stress during the handling process, you can increase the chances of survival for the fish if you decide to release it back into the water. Less stressed fish are also healthier and have a higher chance of recovery after being caught.

Using proper fishing equipment

To handle fish safely, it is important to use the right fishing equipment. This includes choosing the right fishing line, selecting appropriate hooks, and using a landing net.

Choosing the right fishing line

When it comes to fishing lines, different types have different strengths and properties. It is essential to choose a fishing line that is strong enough to handle the size and weight of the fish you are targeting. Using a line that is too weak may cause it to break, resulting in lost fish or injuries to yourself. On the other hand, using a line that is too strong can also be detrimental, as it may put unnecessary stress on the fish during the fight.

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Selecting appropriate hooks

Choosing the right hooks is another important aspect of safe fish handling. The size and type of hook you use should match the fish species you are targeting. Using hooks that are too large or too small can lead to ineffective hooksets or cause unnecessary damage to the fish’s mouth. Additionally, using barbless hooks can make it easier to release the fish without causing harm.

Using a landing net

A landing net is a useful tool for safely handling fish, especially larger ones. It helps support the fish’s body weight and prevents it from thrashing around, reducing the risk of injury to both yourself and the fish. When using a landing net, make sure it is made of a fish-friendly material to avoid damaging the fish’s slime coat, which protects its skin from infections and parasites.

Preparing for safe fish handling

Before you head out to fish, it’s important to be prepared for safe fish handling. This involves having a suitable fish handling device, keeping the necessary tools nearby, and wearing protective gloves if necessary.

Having a suitable fish handling device

Having a suitable fish handling device is essential for safe fish handling. This could be a pair of fish grippers, a lip grip, or a properly sized and designed fish net. These devices allow you to handle the fish without touching its body, reducing the risk of injury to both you and the fish.

Keeping the necessary tools nearby

To handle fish safely, it is important to have the necessary tools nearby. This includes a pair of pliers for removing hooks, a pair of scissors for cutting fishing line, and a dehooking tool for safely removing hooks from the fish’s mouth. These tools will help you handle the fish with minimal stress and ensure a smooth and efficient process.

Wearing protective gloves

In some cases, it may be necessary to wear protective gloves while handling fish, especially if you are targeting fish with sharp teeth or venomous spines. Protective gloves can provide an extra layer of protection and prevent any injuries or infections that may occur. However, make sure the gloves you use are appropriate for fishing and allow you to maintain a good grip on the fish.

Best practices for handling fish

Now that you are prepared for safe fish handling, let’s discuss some best practices to follow when handling fish.

Wetting your hands before touching the fish

Before touching the fish, it is important to wet your hands. This helps reduce the amount of contact between your hands and the fish’s body, which can remove its protective slime coat and make it more susceptible to infections. Wetting your hands also helps prevent the fish from sliding out of your grasp.

Supporting the fish’s weight properly

When handling fish, it is crucial to support their weight properly to avoid injuring them. Depending on the fish’s size and species, you can use one hand to support its belly and the other hand to support its tail. This helps distribute its weight evenly and prevents the fish from thrashing around.

Avoiding excessive squeezing or pressure

Excessive squeezing or pressure should be avoided when handling fish. Applying excessive force can cause internal injuries or damage to the fish’s organs. Instead, handle the fish gently and be conscious of its fragility. Remember, the fish’s survival and well-being should be your top priority.

Removing the fish from the hook

Removing the fish from the hook is a delicate process that requires some skill and the right tools. Here’s how you can do it safely.

Using a dehooking tool

A dehooking tool can make the process of removing hooks from the fish’s mouth much easier and safer. It allows you to keep your fingers away from the fish’s sharp teeth and reduces the risk of injury. Insert the dehooking tool next to the hook’s barb, rotate it, and gently remove the hook.

Securing the fish’s mouth

If you do not have a dehooking tool, you can also secure the fish’s mouth using the wet hand method. Wet your hand, grasp the fish’s lower jaw, and gently apply pressure to keep its mouth closed. This will help prevent the fish from thrashing and injuring itself or you while you remove the hook.

Avoiding damaging the fish’s gills

When removing the hook, it is important to be mindful of the fish’s gills. These delicate structures are responsible for the fish’s breathing, and any damage to them can be fatal. Always avoid touching or pulling on the gills while removing the hook. Instead, focus on safely removing the hook from the fish’s mouth without causing any harm.

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Taking photos or measurements

Capturing the memory of a successful catch is a common practice among anglers. Here are some tips to ensure a safe and respectful process.

Using a camera or smartphone

Instead of using flashlights or external flashes, use natural daylight or the camera’s built-in flash when taking photos of fish. This helps minimize stress on the fish and allows for better image quality. If using a smartphone, make sure to handle it properly and avoid dropping it into the water.

Handling the fish gently during the process

When taking photos or measurements, handle the fish gently and minimize the time it spends out of the water. Use a wet towel or cloth to hold the fish if necessary, keeping it moist and reducing stress. Avoid excessive squeezing or holding the fish in unnatural positions, as this can cause injuries or excessive stress.

Returning the fish to the water quickly

After capturing the moment, it is important to return the fish to the water quickly and safely. The longer the fish is out of the water, the greater the risk of stress or injuries. Place the fish in the water, supporting it until it regains its strength and swims away on its own. If necessary, gently move the fish back and forth to facilitate proper oxygen exchange through its gills.

Releasing the fish safely

If you decide to release the fish back into the water, there are a few guidelines to follow to maximize its chances of survival.

Holding the fish upright in the water

When releasing a fish, hold it upright in the water, facing into the current if possible. This allows the fish to breathe properly and recover more quickly. Avoid dropping or throwing the fish back into the water, as this can cause injuries or disorientation.

Allowing the fish to regain strength before release

Before releasing the fish, make sure it has regained its strength and is able to swim on its own. You can gently move the fish back and forth to help facilitate good oxygen exchange through its gills. Once the fish starts to swim strongly and shows signs of readiness, let it go gently and watch it swim away.

Avoiding throwing or forcefully releasing the fish

Releasing fish with force or throwing them back into the water can cause injuries and decrease their chances of survival. Aim for a gentle release by gently guiding the fish into the water and allowing it to swim away naturally. Remember, the goal is to ensure the fish’s well-being and give it the best chance of survival.

Cleaning up after handling fish

After handling fish, it is important to clean up properly to minimize any negative impact on the environment. Here’s what you can do:

Properly disposing of any fishing line or hooks

Improperly discarded fishing line and hooks can cause harm to wildlife and the environment. Make sure to collect any discarded fishing line, hooks, or other related items and dispose of them properly. Some tackle shops provide recycling bins specifically for fishing line, so be sure to check if there are any available in your area.

Cleaning the fishing equipment used

Cleaning your fishing equipment after use is essential for its maintenance and longevity. Rinse your fishing rod, reel, and other gear with fresh water to remove any salt or debris. Check for any signs of damage or wear and replace any worn-out or damaged components.

Leaving the fishing spot clean and free of litter

Responsible anglers always leave the fishing spot clean and free of litter. Take any trash or leftover bait with you when you leave. This ensures the preservation of the ecosystem and allows others to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Caring for caught fish

If you plan to keep the fish you catch, it is important to care for them properly to maintain their freshness and quality.

Storing fish properly on ice or in a cooler

After catching the fish, make sure to store them properly to prevent spoilage. Place the fish in a cooler with ice or in a bucket filled with ice water. This helps maintain their temperature and slows down the growth of bacteria, ensuring the fish stays fresh until you are ready to clean and cook it.

Cleaning and gutting fish efficiently

Cleaning and gutting the fish as soon as possible after catching them helps preserve their quality. Use a sharp knife and make a clean cut along the belly, being careful not to puncture the fish’s organs. Remove the innards, including the gills, and rinse the fish with cold water. Properly cleaning the fish helps remove any bacteria, blood, or debris, ensuring a safe and delicious meal.

Cooking the caught fish in a safe and delicious manner

Once the fish is cleaned, it’s time to cook it. There are numerous delicious recipes and cooking methods available for cooking fresh fish, such as grilling, baking, or pan-frying. Make sure to follow proper food safety guidelines, such as cooking the fish to the appropriate internal temperature and avoiding cross-contamination with other raw foods. By cooking the fish properly, you can enjoy a safe and delicious meal.


Handling fish safely is not only essential for your own well-being but also for the preservation of fish populations and the environment as a whole. By prioritizing safe fish handling practices, you can minimize injuries, preserve the fish’s quality, and reduce stress on the fish. Remember to always choose appropriate fishing equipment, prepare for safe fish handling, follow best practices, and care for the fish you catch responsibly. By being a responsible angler, you can enjoy the rewards of a successful catch while ensuring the long-term sustainability of our fisheries.

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