All About Florida Keys Fishing & Key West Fishing

    Catch-and-Release Fishing
    The fishing effort in Florida has increased dramatically over the past decade and is still on
    the rise.

    Fishing effort in Florida has increased dramatically over the past decade, and it is still
    increasing. Fishing is a favorite pastime of Florida's residents and visitors, and in 1997,
    anglers made about 24 million fishing trips and caught 141 million marine fishes, 71.5
    million of which were released. Florida's resident population of 14.7 million increases
    daily by about 1,000 people, and more than 40 million tourists, most with coastal
    destinations, visit the state annually.

    Managers of Florida's fisheries use a combination of traditional measures to control
    harvests and protect fish stocks. These measures include bag limits; minimum and
    maximum sizes; closed seasons and areas; and in some cases, no harvest is allowed
    unless a special permit is purchased. Bag limits reduce the number of fish that are
    harvested and allocate the catch over time so that the year's total harvest is not taken in
    one season. Aggregate bag limits are sometimes applied collectively to a complex of
    species such as grunts and snappers, so that the community is not overfished. Minimum
    and maximum sizes or "slot" limits protect sexually immature fish and may be imposed to
    create a "trophy" fishery, i.e., a fishery that produces extremely large individuals. Closed
    seasons and closed areas protect a species during spawning, especially when fish return
    yearly to known locations to spawn. The "no harvest" rule is implemented when a stock, for
    example jewfish, is severely over-fished. To succeed, Florida's fishery management
    strategies of size limits and closed seasons depend on the survival of fish that are caught
    and released. In this article we outline some steps anglers may take to increase the
    chances that the fish they catch and release will survive.

    "Limit your kill; don't kill your limit!"
    Fish die for a variety of reasons after being caught and released by an angler, but usually
    they die from the physiological stress caused by the struggle during capture or from
    injuries caused by the hook or the angler. Some fish may die even though they appear
    unharmed and despite efforts at revival. Fish that struggle intensely for a long time during
    capture are usually exhausted and stressed from the accumulation of excessive amounts
    of lactic acid in their muscles and blood. Severe exhaustion causes physiological
    imbalance, muscle failure, or death. Therefore, use the proper weight-class tackle, land
    your catch quickly, and when possible leave the fish in the water while you release it.
    Bringing an exhausted fish out of the water is like placing a plastic bag over the head a
    marathon runner—the fish needs oxygen to recover!

    Hook wounds may appear minor to anglers, but damage to the gills, eyes, or internal
    organs can be fatal. If the fish is hooked deep in the throat or gut, research shows that it is
    best to cut the leader at the hook and leave the hook in the fish. Prolonged attempts to
    remove the hook often do more harm than good. Fish are capable of rejecting, expelling, or
    encapsulating hooks. Steel and bronze hooks are less toxic and are rejected or
    "dissolved" sooner than are stainless steel and cadmium- or nickel-plated hooks. Studies
    on striped bass, spotted seatrout, and snook have shown that in most of the cases of
    hook-related maortality , live bait was used. Artificial lures are generally in motion and the
    hook is set before the lure can be swallowed. Likewise, if you are using hooks with live or
    dead bait, try to set the hook immediately to avoid internal damage from "gut" hooking. If
    you allow the fish to run with the bait, the chances of gut-hooking the fish increase.

    Survival rates for some Florida fishes
    Controlled studies have shown that most fish released after hook-and-line capture survive.
    Researchers working in Boca Grande Pass tagged 27 tarpon with sonic transmitters and
    found that 26 of these hook-and-line-caught fish survived. The one fish that died had been
    lifted from the water for a photograph before release. Scientists repeatedly caught bonefish
    held in a large pond in the Florida Keys and found that 96% survived capture. A few of the
    bonefish that ultimately died had been caught 5–10 times each, which suggests that
    bonefish hooked and released in the wild probably have an even higher survival rate.
    Angler-caught snook held in large net-pens throughout Florida had a 98% survival rate.
    Most of the snook that died were caught with live bait, consistent with studies showing that
    fish caught with lures generally survive. Spotted seatrout caught in Tampa Bay had a 95%
    survival rate. Hook position affected survival rates; trout hooked in the gills or gut had lower
    survival rates than those hooked in the mouth. Redfish survival rates range from 84% in
    Georgia waters to 96% in Texas waters. Like seatrout, hook position affected survival
    rates; more than 50% of the throat- or gut-hooked fish died. These studies demonstrate
    that catch-and-release fishing works—most fish that are released survive; however, by
    following a few simple guidelines, anglers can maximize survival rates.

    Guidelines for Catch-and-Release
    The most important actions an angler can take to ensure a successful release are to hook
    and land the fish as quickly as possible, leave the fish in the water while removing the
    hook, and release the fish quickly.

    These are additional tips to improve survival rates:

    Decide beforehand which fish are to be kept and immediately release all others.
    Do not engage in a prolonged debate over whether or not to release the fish after the fish
    has been landed. Never place fish in your live well intending to release them later if you
    catch a larger one. Once you make a decision to keep a fish, stick with it. The fish you
    release from your live well has a decreased chance of surviving.

    Avoid the use of gaffs and never remove large fish such as tarpon from the water.
    Large fish can injure themselves and the crew and should therefore be treated with
    respect. Take a photograph of the fish in the water and turn it loose.

    If the hook is difficult to remove by hand, use long-nosed pliers or a hook-removal tool.
    Do not tear additional tissue in removing the hook—back it through the original wound. If
    this fails, cut the leader and pull the hook through the injury. Cut the leader close to the
    hook when releasing large jewfish, tarpon, sharks, and other fishes that are gut hooked
    that you do not plan to keep. Do not lift a gut-hooked fish out of the water by the leader; this
    can increase the damage.

    Try fishing with barbless hooks or crimp and remove the barb.
    Catch rates using barbed and barbless hooks are not significantly different. The
    advantages of using barbless hooks are that they are easier to remove and they cause
    less physical damage to the fish.

    Wet your hands or gloves before handling the fish.
    Do not injure the eyes or gills. Placing the fish on a wet towel will help keep the slime that
    protects it in place. To keep the fish still, place it on its back or cover its eyes with a wet
    towel. Control the fish at all times! If you drop the fish, the chances of it dying increase.

    If your fish is in good shape, put it back into the water headfirst.
    If it doesn't swim or is lethargic or erratic, some "resuscitation" may be needed until the
    fish can swim off on its own. Revive exhausted but otherwise healthy fish by first placing
    one hand under the tail and holding the bottom lip with the other. If the fish is in fair to good
    shape, merely hold it headfirst into the current. If it is severely lethargic, depress the bottom
    lip to cause the jaw to gape and gently move the fish forward. Moving the fish in an erratic
    back and forth motion will just induce more stress. At the first sign of the fish attempting to
    swim away—let it go. Prolonged attempts at resuscitation will be stressful to the fish.

    Large pelagic species such as sharks and tarpon should be brought alongside the boat
    within 20 minutes of being hooked.
    If you are consistently landing exhausted fish that require extensive efforts at resuscitation,
    you should consider using heavier tackle.

    Practice and share these techniques! Teach your children and inexperienced anglers
    these few simple procedures to help ensure abundant fish populations for the future.

    Source - Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
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