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As water warms, release fish gently, quickly to ensure they live

Improper handling of fish increases the odds they may swim away, but die.

31-inch walleye being released
A 31-inch walleye is gently revived before swimming away. Handle fish quickly and release them as soon as possible to ensure they survive the stress of being caught in warm water.
Sam Cook / 2014 file / Duluth News Tribune
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MILLE LACS LAKE, Minn. — The release part of catch-and-release fishing doesn't make much sense if the fish dies.

Studies show up to 20% of the walleyes caught on Mille Lacs Lake during hot weather died after being released. Hooking mortality can be even higher for coldwater trout.

Anglers who intend to release the fish they catch can boost the chances those fish will survive by following a few tips from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for catch-and-release, especially in the summer, when water is warmer and the stress of being caught and handled poorly can kill some fish.

Set the hook quickly to avoid hooking a fish in the stomach or gills. Before handling the fish, wet your hands to prevent removal of the fish’s protective slime coating. If possible, unhook and release the fish while it is still in the water. If a hook is deep in the fish, cut the line and leave the hook in the fish.

When holding the fish out of the water — such as for a photograph — support it with both hands using a firm but gentle grip. Hold the fish horizontally, not vertically.

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Keep the fish out of the water for as little time as possible and make sure you keep your hands and fingers away from the fish’s eyes and gills.

To release a fish, hold it horizontally in the water by cradling it under its belly. If needed, revive the fish by slowly holding it upright while holding its tail until it swims away. If the fish is bleeding extensively or cannot right itself in the water, and if it is legal to do so, keep the fish and count it as part of your daily limit.

Find other catch-and-release tips related to fishing equipment — and a video of how to handle large fish like flathead catfish, lake sturgeon or muskellunge — at the Minnesota DNR catch-and-release webpage at dnr.state.mn.us/fish/catchandrelease.html .

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John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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