How to Ethically Handle a Fish.

People hold fish in different ways, some good and some bad. This article will go over the worst ways to hold a fish, and explain the best way.

The Lip Grip: This one’s most common for bass fishing. The angler grabs the lower lip of the fish and lifts it up. While bass have more durable jaws and spines and are able to withstand that kind of grab, our trout are delicate and cannot. Even bass of a larger size need support with a hand lifting the tail end of the fish.

Local smallmouth, lip grip. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rintala

Trout and salmon are built different than bass. They have weaker spines and jaws, and the lip grip harms them. Injuries range from dislocated jaw to broken spinal cord, neither of which help them out. A broken jaw will keep it from feeding and swimming correctly, most commonly killing the fish within a few days of the injury.

Gill Grab: This is one grip that, across all fish species, should almost never be used. All fish use their gills to take oxygen out of the water around them. For them, it’s basically breathing.

When anglers put their fingers under a fish’s gill plate, they mess with the fish’s breathing. Gills are extremely delicate and just touching them can damage them so that fish can’t breathe well enough to survive.

How to Hold a Trout | Troutbitten
A great example of an unethical fish handling technique. Photo courtesy of

The Right Way: The right way to hold a trout or salmon(or any fish for that matter) if you intend to later release the fish, is what we teach at MHFF. You wet your hands first, then grab the fish by the meat of its tail. This you can squeeze gently without harming any organs or body components. Place your other hand behind the fish’s head and cradle it, then lift the fish out of the water.

This grip protects the fish’s major features and gives the angler a strong grip on the fish without hurting it. An added bonus is that it’s the best way to show off your catch for a photo.

A perfect example of a good fish hold. Photo courtesy of Matt Heron

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about how to handle fish, but hopefully you can steer clear of poor fish handling ethics.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

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