Everybody's idea of fish care will be a little different, but the end result should always be the same - to get your quarry back to its home undamaged and no worse for being caught.
Fish care starts in the tackle shop, where you should arm yourself with the essential items of equipment in order to protect and sort your catch while it's out of its natural environment, be it the correct size landing net a unhooking mat or basic items like a disgorger or forceps for hook removal.
Playing and Landing
When you hook a fish, take time and care when playing. Do not to bully the fish, NO YANK AND BANK!! too much this can cause large hook holds and damage the fish's mouth permanently. We have all seen pictures of Carp caught with massively deformed mouths, caused mostly by anglers' hooks.
Once the fish has been played out to the point were you feel it can be landed, have your landing net to hand, sink the net, carefully draw the fish over the net with its nose towards the net and carefully lift the net. Bingo!! Fish safely in the net!
Care after capture
When you've landed your fish this is when you have decisions to make, a quick hook removal while the fish is between your legs in your landing net and return carefully back to the water or place into a keep net, or if you quarry is the larger specimens you may need to place your fish on a unhooking mat while you sort out and remove the hook.
If the latter carefully lift the fish and net and walk steadily to your unhooking mat, being careful not to knock the fish on any bank-side dangers, wooden platforms, tackle boxes, bank sticks etc and gently place your capture onto a wet unhooking mat, locate the hook hold and carefully remove the hook using a suitable disgorger or forceps. Most of the time, when using barbless hooks, the hook will have removed itself in the net once the pressure on the line has been released.
Weighing and Pictures
If you want to weight and take a picture of your fish make sure you have everything sorted and organised before you remove the fish from the water, scales and sling zeroed camera in place etc and keep the fish wet using a container with water in.
Carefully transfer the fish from mat to sling, always keeping the fish close to the ground and over the mat. In the event of the fish kicking and the grip on the fish being lost it will only drop a minimal distance and onto the soft mat below. Once the fish is in the sling, check that all fins are flat to its body to prevent them being broken when lifted for the weigh in. Then gently lift the sling just enough to clear the mat and read the weight of your catch. Then place the fish back on the mat keeping it covered with the wet sling.
Now it's time to take photos of your catch. Gently open up the sling, and with the belly side towards you, slide one hand from mouth to pectoral fin, and place a few fingers each side. Slide your other hand from tail to anal fin and place two fingers each side of the fish. Then lift and tilt the fish to show the full side of the fish to the camera lens. Try to avoid lifting the fish too high (NEVER STAND WHILE HOLDING A FISH). If it kicks try rocking it back on to your form arms while it kicks if you struggle to keep hold place it back onto the mat let it calm and try again.
Dont forget Rule 33
All fish must be handled with care and treated with the utmost respect. No fish to be placed on the ground without an appropriate unhooking mat’ Anybody found allowing fish to ‘flap on the stones’ or the ground will have their member’s ticket suspended.
Here is a list of the basic requirements for any angler who cares about fish welfare.
1. Barbless hooks. They leave minimum damage in the way of hook holds and are removed much easier.
2. A suitable sized landing net. Large enough to land the biggest fish in the venue.
3. An unhooking mat. A must if you intend to fish for Carp, Tench, Barbel, Pike etc.
4. Forceps or disgorgers. Carry a range to suit your hook sizes.
5. Get it wet. Anything that will come into contact with the fish must be wet; unhooking mat, weigh sling, your hands etc. This will prevent the protective mucus on the fish's body from being removed.
6. Respect for all fish. Not something you can buy, but you should have the greatest respect for all the fish you catch, and do your very best to return them to their home in the condition they came to you in, or better.