How to Safely Release a Salmon

This year, the beginning of the salmon season was marked by the opening of the River Tay on 15th January.

This heralded the ASFB’s new spring salmon fishing legislation in Scotland, which deems that any rod-caught salmon in Scotland must be returned.

The new law is in effect from the beginning of the season until the end of March and aims to give salmon the best possible chance to reach the spawning redds, in a bid to replenish salmon stocks in Scottish rivers. It is vital that during the catch and release fishing, the salmon is returned quickly and unharmed.

Here’s our advice for doing so:

Tackle for salmon catch and release

Before you set off, make sure you have the following tackle for safe catch and release:

Barbless hooks – for quick release and minimised risk of bleeding when removing the hooks, always use a barbless hook. A size 8 (or preferably smaller) is recommended.

A knotless net – use a wide, soft knotless net to minimise damage by allowing the fish to lie flat as well as reducing damage to its scales.

Tip: to assist with a swift release make sure you have a tool, such as long-nosed forceps, at hand for prompt hook removal. Also, if you plan on recording or taking a photograph of your catch, make sure that you keep all of the equipment close to hand so that this can be done quickly.

Landing the fish

It’s vital not to lift the fish out of the water; research has shown that salmon which are exposed to air, even for a short period, have a significantly reduced survival rate.
Certainly do not lift the salmon by the tail or gill cover, as this can cause internal damage as well as damage to tendons.

Record your catch

If you want to take a photograph of your catch, keep the fish in the water or at least slightly above it and support the fish gently under its belly. When handling the salmon, always do so with wet hands or soft, wet cotton gloves to avoid damaging the fish’s outer boundary layer of mucus – which protects it against disease and parasites. If you have to weigh the fish, then weigh with the fish enclosed in the net or use a weigh net.

A tape measure or wading stick can be marked to record approximate length – this should be done while the fish is kept in the water. This can also be used against a chart to measure approximate weight.

Recovery and unhooking the fish

Gently remove the hook by hand or with forceps when the fish is quiet. If it is deeply embedded then cut the leader as close as possible to the hook. Generally, fish can be released and survive with the hook still attached and this will cause less damage to the fish than if the embedded hook is removed.

Recovery may take some time, but it is vital for fish to be allowed to recover before they are released into clean, steady water.

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