Bish & Fish Home Pageheader background image

Trout Dying To Get a Good Photo

We all should know the rules for releasing a trout with the best chance of survival, but there is one rule that is almost never included in articles about successful releasing.

So, you have landed the fish as quickly as possible to limit capture stress and you are about to pick up the fish and a get a few 'grip and grin' shots before release.

But, grip and grin, can all too often turn into grip and kill, and it is all down to where and how you grip the trout that can determine its survival.

Anatomical drawing of trout

Have look at the anatomical drawing above showing the main internal structure and components of a trout. Take particular notice where the heart is (red outline) - between and under the gills and liver, just above the Pectoral fins.

These three organs, heart, gills and liver are very susceptible to damage, although not always immediately obvious, unless the damage is very severe leading to immediate death. A fish subject to external pressure to the heart and other organs may swim away on release, but many die soon after.

Gripping a fish in the pectoral area using inward force and squeezing pressure will compress the heart and maybe the liver and gills. The outcome for the fish is not going to be good, even if it does manage to swim away on release.

So we should have a look at a gallery of grip and kill photos copied from the web and magazines - any ID of the person holding the fish has been removed. I should also note that some or even all of these fish were not released - I cold not tell.

Bad grip number 1 This grip while probably not
lethal will still stress the heart.
Any squeezing here must be avoided.

We need to try and avoid any more stress than landing the fish has already incurred. Placing stress
on the heart and other organs will increase the chances of the fish dying exponentially.

Bad grip 3A bad grip very likely to damage the fish's heart and reduce survival chances.

The worst example of 'grip and kill' in these shots - almost certain lethal damage to heart, liver and gills. Bad grip5

The 'UK Grip' - A Killer Too!

So called UK grip that can kill trout

Those who follow UK trout fishing magazines and websites may have noticed the prevalence of photos with the trout being held as seen in the photo above. I did a quick flick through a pile of recent top selling UK magazines and websites and as rough estimate well over 70% of fish are held by what I call the 'UK grip'. I believe trout are held this way to show off the fact that the fish is a ‘full-finned’ or a wild fish, not a stocked fish.

Most fly-fishing in the UK is done in stocked still-waters. Many (most?) stocked fish have their tails and fines damaged by other fish and the concrete walls of the stock pens. So to show off the fact the fish is 'full-finned and tailed' you need a grip that does just that. That grip, which I have called the 'UK grip', is great for showing fins and tails, but is it good for the trout? No!

The UK grip means that the tail of the fish is not firmly held, so the holder must squeeze the fish in the heart area as shown above. If the fish thrashes about, the grip around the heart area has to increase, because the grip ahead of the tail is very weak . All bad news for the heart and other organs.

But this bad grip is certainly not confined to the UK, you see grip and kill photos from around the  world on the net, but it seems to be a more common practice in the UK.

This practice needs to stop. Magazines and websites need to stop showing photographs of fish held in damaging way.

The way it should be...

Good grip

The right way to hold a fish near the head. The trout is 'cradled' with the fingers parallel to the side of the fish, not clawing in like talons, or squeezing this vulnerable area.

The key to being able to get a good grip on the pectoral area is a good grip on the tail

One of New Zealand’s best known guides, Tony Entwhistle, writing in the New Zealand Fish & Game Magazine, (published here by permission) has one of the best descriptions I have read on the proper handling of a trout.

"Securely handling trout without causing stress or damage

Securely handling trout without causing stress or damage is a matter of a gentle touch, not a tight grip.

To pacify a landed trout, simply place a hand vertically in front of its nose to prevent it from swimming forward and fold the palm to cover both eyes. This acts as a mask and immediately calms it down. Trout relax quickly when their eyes are covered.

Next grasp the fish’s tail with the other hand, without excessive force.

Some anglers use a piece of stocking for grip, but with good technique this isn’t necessary. Securing a trout needs only gentle pressure between the thumb and forefinger, applied directly over the base of the tail, applied where it joins the body (hypural joint).

Apply pressure top and bottom through the first joints of the forefinger and thumb, rather than along the sides

The mistake is grasping the tail too far forward and using too much hand in doing so. Squeezing hard does not help as the fish slips more easily.

Now test the grip by lifting the fish slightly by the tail, keeping the other hand over the eyes for the moment. If the grip is secure the trout will not slip, but if it does resist grabbing at it with both hands. By quickly slipping a hand in front of the nose, and covering the eyes again, a lot more fish will be saved from premature release.

With a positive grip on the tail it is now possible to begin lifting the trout safely for a photograph or release.

Avoid squeezing the fish around the soft belly area behind the pectoral fins because this causes discomfort and can potentially cause serious damage to internal organs. Instead slide the free hand under the pectoral fins, orientating the hand so that the trout’s head rests along the index finger, with the pectoral fins spread out between thumb and little finger.

The trout will be nicely balanced and the soft tissue in the belly area will no be supporting any weight. Lifting the trout this way, and returning it to the water between photographs minimizes any distress which could reignite its struggles. Turn the fish belly up when removing the hook.

Handle trout gently and with respect and they won’t panic or stress, ensuring their revival for release without damage and a minimum of fuss."

Securely handling trout without causing stress or damage first published in New Zealand Fish & Game Magazine is Copyright and published here by permission.

The Harsh Fact About Holding a Trout
Out of The Water

There is no getting around it, lifting a trout out of the water to take a photo is almost certainly going to dramatically increase the stress and physical damage already done while landing the fish.

This is true, even when the fish is handled very carefully and all the "rules" about releasing are followed to the letter.

If you are really concerned about releasing a trout with the maximum chances of survival never lift it clear of the water.

To get the full picture on releasing trout, and other fish, fresh and salt water  with the highest chances of healthy survival see this, it spawned the grip and kill article above.

Article written by Tony Bishop

book image link to free book

'Fishing Smarter for Trout'

My first trout fishing book Fishing Smarter for Trout is now up on this site and free to read. Includes regular updates and new stuff.
Read it here.

Bish & Fish Site Search

Featured article header graphic

How to Release Fish with the Best Chance of Survival

Ban Treble Hooks

Don't be fooled, just unhooking a fish and throwing it back in the water is not going to ensure a fish will survive the catch and release.

Releasing fish correctly has become a very important factor in preserving fish stocks for the future, but it needs to be done correctly.

This article sets out 5 "release rules" that provide the maximum survivability for the fish. There is also a couple of extra 'rules' and links to more information.

Read it here.

related article header graphic

Catch and Release Dogma

Most aspects of human endeavour have collected their share of dogma and cant.

Trout fishing is one sport where a short-sighted, blinkered view of how things could and should be done is rife amongst a self appointed ‘elite’.

One aspect these dogmatists latch onto with total disregard for the fishery they are fishing in, is catch and release. According to them all trout should be released. This is nonsense.

(In fact strict adherence to C & R in all trout water may indeed kill off the sport - a number of European countries now ban Catch and Release.)

Read on...

Social buttons

Maori Greenstone (NZ Jade) Hook Ornament