Research has shown that you can significantly increase the survival rate of fish you catch with proper handling during catch and release. Fish should be handled gently and as little as possible. Returning them to the water as quickly as possible minimizes stress to the fish. Minimizing time out of the water has been shown to be one of the most critical survival factors.

Handling Tips

See: Handling and Gear

  • Use tackle heavy enough to land a fish quickly. This reduces exhaustion, which could result in the death of the fish or weaken it, making it more vulnerable to predators.
  • When handling a fish, use wet hands – never with a towel – to prevent removal of the fish’s protective slime coating.
  • It is best for the fish to take pictures of it while still in the water.
  • If a fish must be lifted from the water, always support its weight horizontally and never lift a fish by its jaw – this can injure the fish so it can’t feed normally and/or harm its internal organs.
  • Do not touch the gills and never hold a fish by its gill cover.
  • Only gaff a fish when you are sure it is legal to harvest and you intend to keep it.
  • If a fish is exhausted, revive it before releasing by holding the fish with the head pointed downward in the water and moving the fish back and forth to pass water over its gills until the fish is able to swim unassisted.
  • Release should be done in the water if possible and always head first.


To ensure compliance with fishing regulations, fish should be measured before keeping. To learn how to accurately measure fish, go to:

Responsible Handling when Photographing Fish

From Florida Fish Busters’ Bulletin, Bob Wattendorf with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) provides image guidelines for fishing and boating scenes.

Proper Fish Handling Technique

Famed saltwater fisherman Mark Sosin provides an overview of best handling practices.