Striped bass are tough creatures, but the strain put on a fish while being caught is intense.
Imagine you just ran a marathon, and then suddenly someone covered your mouth and you couldn't breathe. That might be what it's like for a striper.
That's why I feel it's really important to do everything in our power to catch and release stripers in the least harmful way possible - especially if fishing at the Cape Cod Canal.
By following the six tips outlined below, you will help ensure that the striper you just caught swims away alive and healthy.
These tips were adapted from information available on keepemwet.org and was originally published here on MFCC during August of 2018.
1) Reduce Angling Duration
By landing a fish quickly and without playing it to exhaustion, you can dramatically reduce stress the fish incurs.
This can be achieved by ensuring you are using a 10-11ft rod rated for at least 5 ounces, paired with a reel that can hold at least 300 yards of 50lb braid.
Tighten your drag and get the bass in quick.
2) Hold Stripers Over The Water
In the photo above, MFCC Derby winner Dane Wetmore did a good job holding the striper over the water (and not over land).
Stripers are slippery creatures and can easily be dropped.
So when holding a fish, keep it in or slightly above the water - not over the rocks.
That way if dropped, it falls back into the water unharmed.
3) Consider Barbless Hooks
An easy way to increase the chances of a striped bass surviving after you catch it, is to crimp the barbs on hooks.
Not only do barbless hooks cause less damage to a stripers’s mouth, but they are also much easier and quicker to remove - especially important when one ends up in your ear or finger!
Of course also keep in mind that you will lose more fish when you use hooks that do not have barbs. For me personally, I crush the barbs on my hooks whenever the fishing is "lights out".
In other words, if I'm catching fish left and right, then I'm going to use barbless hooks. If the fishing is super slow and I might only get one or two bites a day, then I will most likely leave the barbs on.
4) Carry Hook Removal Devices
One thing I recommend all anglers always carry on them are needle nose pliers. Wearing your pliers on your hip, or having them somewhere else that is easily accessible, will make unhooking stripers much quicker and easier.
If you do not have a lot of experience handling striped bass, then I recommend using a fish grip, especially when using treble hooks. A fish grip tool can be very helpful for quick and safe hook removal.
I personally don't use a fish grip because I'm very comfortable and accustomed to handling stripers. Plus the tool can exert a lot of unnecessary pressure on a fish's jaw.
5) Photograph Wet Stripers & Hold Horizontally
Poor fish photography practices have been an area of concern ever since the rise of social media. This is particularly noticeable at the Cape Cod Canal, where anglers often catch huge photo-worthy stripers.
It is certainly best to photograph wet stripers, and to hold the striper over the water. This way if you drop the fish it will land in the water, and not on dry sharp rocks, which is especially important at the canal.
If a fish is momentarily taken out of the water, keep it as close to the water as possible and fully submerge it between pictures to give the fish a quick breather.
Ideally, let the photographer call the shots – 1, 2, 3...raise the fish....and click.
Hold the fish horizontally and support the belly. Do not hold the fish vertically by the gills or by the jaw, as this can exert a lot of pressure on a big heavy fish.
6) Carefully Revive Stripers
If a striper can not swim away on its own it may need reviving.
This can be done by submerging the fish and holding its head facing up-current so that the water runs in the mouth and through the gills.
In still water situations, move the fish in a figure 8 pattern to simulate this effect. The striper will bite down on your thumb when it's ready to swim away.
By always looking to improve our fish handling practices, we can help ensure we do as little damage as possible and improve the fish's chances of survival.
I feel this is especially important for striped bass, because they are targeted so extensively by so many anglers along our coastlines.
What catch and release tips did I miss? Do you have any recommendations of your own? I'd love to hear them, so please let me know by leaving a comment below.