Guides share tips on how to handle your catch

Because releasing fish has become more popular and, in many cases, required on Northland waters, some anglers have suggested a story outlining proper fish-handling and release techniques.

Because releasing fish has become more popular and, in many cases, required on Northland waters, some anglers have suggested a story outlining proper fish-handling and release techniques.

So, we called upon three veteran and trusted guides -- one for walleyes, one for muskies, one for lake trout -- to describe how they handle and release fish to increase odds for survival. Here are their tips.


Mike Berg

Seagull Creek Fishing Camp


Grand Marais

Removing hooks: "If they're hooked down deep in the gullet, the popular belief is to cut the line. I go in with a needle-nose [pliers] through the gills. You put the needle-nose on the shank... twist against the bend of the hook, then it's out of the gullet. Then I release the hook and pull the pliers out. The hook just pops out. It's a lot better than sticking the needle-nose straight down into the gullet."

If you choose not to attempt that method, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends clipping your line so that one inch hangs out of the fish's mouth. Circle hooks may help in preventing deeply hooked fish, according to the DNR. They are designed to hook fish in the mouth.

Holding a fish for a photo: Berg prefers a two-handed lift, with one hand just inside the walleye's gill cover -- avoiding the gills themselves -- and another hand supporting the lower part of the fish.

"It's definitely better than a vertical hold. You don't have all that pressure on the fish's head," he said.

The release: First, lower the fish to the water with both hands. "Hold onto the tail real lightly at the very skinny part of the tail," Berg said. "Kind of keep the fish there. A lot of people hold on too hard and too long. She'll kick and go when she's ready."


Dustin Carlson


Northland Muskie Adventures Guide Service


Before you catch the fish: "The most important thing, with the size of muskies now, is to have a big net. It's important to scoop it up in a net and have a large net that can support a 50-inch fish."

Handling the fish: "Do not take it out of the water. You always want to have your tools in the boat -- a bolt-cutter and long needle-nose pliers to remove the hook."

Try the bolt-cutter first, Carlson said, cutting the hook as close as possible to the bend.

"You want the least amount of hook exposed in the mouth," he said.

"Use the needle-nose if the hook isn't buried," Carlson said. "Keep your hands away from the fish's mouth. [Easier said than done.] Twist the hooks out without holding onto the bait. Then take the bait out of the net before you grab the fish to take a picture of it."

Measuring the fish: A plastic "bumpboard" with


a stop at one end is the most accurate way to measure a fish. Wet the board before laying the fish on it so you don't remove the fish's slime covering.

Photo time: Lift the fish into the boat with the net. Slip one hand underneath the gill cover, Carlson said. Rubber gloves will protect your hands.

"It's very important to support the fish with the other hand toward the middle of the fish and lift it horizontally," he said.

The release: "Try to keep her horizontal," Carlson said. "Lay her in the water very gently. Hold her by the tail and let her sit in the water. Sometimes I'll wiggle her or rub her belly. That seems to calm them."

When the muskie is ready, she will slowly swim away.


Jim Hudson

Hudson's On the Spot Guide Service



Releasing lake trout: "These big lake trout take some time to grow," Hudson said. "To me, there are not enough for everyone to keep.

"In the spring the fish are pretty hardy. They'll fight all the way to the surface. Releasing them is a non-factor. Any time of the season, the biggest thing is the waves and getting them underneath the waves so they can get oriented."

"In a small boat, stop the boat and get their head underneath the wave. If they just sit on the surface, they'll be disoriented and they'll die.

"On bigger boats, it's a problem because you can't get them down to wave height. The best thing I've seen is to 'spear' them down into the water. Grab them by the tail and hold them [with your other hand] near their pectoral fin. When you get into the trough of a wave, spear them down. That immediately sends them into the 'get-the-heck-out-of-here' mode. It gives them a nudge."

Consider the live well: "If you have a live well, put them in there," Hudson said. "Have someone keep them upright and keep the water flowing over them. You'll see them get their strength back."

Photographing the fish: "You have to hold tight on the gill plate [with one hand] and either near the midsection or the anus with the other hand to cradle it, to support its weight. If it's grabbed by [just] the head or the tail, you can hear that vertebrate pop [and the fish will die]," Hudson said. "If you hold the fish more vertically, support it with your hand or your legs."

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