Most fishermen that ice fish rarely consider Catch and Release. Conditions are generally so cold and harsh that if a fish comes through the ice, the next stop is in the fry pan. Winter is the main time when I keep fish for the table. The rest of the year is about safe Catch and Release.
The other day I was on the ice hooking up several fatties for the frying pan when I watched a guy release several fish. He froze his butt off and kept no fish. He was proud that he had caught and released several nice trout. The problem was the way he did it. His trout were dragged out of the hole and into the snow. Then he used a towel to hold and control the fish. The fish flopped around in the snow for a few minutes until he could set his rod, grab a towel, and take out he hook. When he dropped the fish into the hole, he used his foot to kick them back into the hole.
This C and R sportsman felt good about his releases but… His several fish either died or were blind. At least the fry pan would prevent Wanton Waste.
Basic Catch and Release fishing directions apply. Always keep the fish wet! Dragging the fish into the snow means that their protective mucous will be removed. If their eyes hit the ice and snow, the outer covering of their eyes will become damaged. Imagine your tongue on a frozen metal pipe. This is what happens to the fish’s eyes. Using dry towels, or gloves, to hold the fish also removes their protective skin coating.
Fish from deep waters will display a water pressure issue. Their air bladders will be displayed from their mouths. Time for a quick release is crucial. Handling these fish and their internal bladders is also life threatening. Take care and be quick. Normally, these pressured fish will gradually recover and survive.
Forceps help with deep hook ups. If there is blood, the fish will die. Take your time but be quick. If your Triage assessment means death to the fish, cut the line, and let the fish go. The hooks will rust and decompose in a few days and the fish will survive. If you rip the gills and guts out, the fish is already dead.
Ice Fishing magnifies the risk of killing your catch. Fish are already under stress in a cold and food starved environment. You drop a fat and tasty bait down and they engulf it. Perhaps Catch and Release is not ideal when ice fishing. Barbless hooks, fly rods, and rubber nets do not apply. If you are an avid C and R angler, wait for wet water to pursue your sport. Its ok to not fish for a few months. Tie up some flies and finish the Honey Do List so you can hook up later.
For many ice fishing is about dinner!
For more Montana Grant, find him hooking up on the hard water at www.montanagrantfishing.com.