Every angler has had to deal with a fish that has swallowed the hook, deep into its gullet. The chances of that fish surviving are not good, but you can improve its odds of recovery by following a few simple steps.
It is estimated that at least 60 percent of fish that are deep hooked will die after being released. Most anglers are conscientious and want to do the right thing to help a fish live, but there is a right way and a wrong way to remove a hook that is lodged deep in a fish’s throat.
Obviously, the worst thing you can do is to yank the hook out. This will undoubtedly cause traumatic damage that results in the death of the fish. In recent decades, anglers have heard the best thing to do is just cut the line and the hook will eventually dissolve. This advice lies in the gray zone, because some hooks may eventually dissolve, while others will not. And if a plastic or metal lure is involved, this advice certainly will not work.
The better option involves a bit more time and effort, but it improves the odds of survival. If you are dealing with a single hook lodged deep in a fish, the first step is to cut the line. The next step is to take a needle-nose pliers and crimp the barb on the hook. This may require you to access the hook through the gills, so use extra care to not cause any additional damage to the fish. With the barb out of the way, the hook should slide right out, the way it came in, with little damage to the fish.
When a treble hook become lodged deep, it is more difficult to remove it from the fish. Trying to finesse one hook out can lead to another hook becoming lodged in the fish. While in some cases it is possible to use the technique above, the better option for treble hooks is to simply cut the hook. Use a side cutter to snip the hook, then slide the remaining piece of the hook out with a pliers. You will have to replace your hook, but you will likely save a fish.
Of course anglers can go one step further by using barbless hooks, which significantly improve the odds of removing a deeply lodged hook. Barbless hooks can make it more difficult to set the hook or make it easier for a fish to get off the hook, but they definitely do less damage to the fish. You can purchase barbless hooks, but it easier just to crimp the barbs on the hooks you already have.
Taking the extra time to save a few fish each year may not seem like a big deal, but helping more fish survive makes an impact over the long run.
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