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In another thread someone objected to pictures of steelhead posed in shallow water next to the rods that the fish were presumably caught on. Here was the reply:

These fish did NOT bounce their heads on the rock!!!!!! When their eyes are covered with wet small towel , after it is removed, the fish will be calm for a while.If there is nobody with you to tail a fish, you have to tire it enough to just unhook it. BTW only 10-15% of my fish is photographed, and only when they behave calm. Do not make judgement without seen it......
I never heard of the small-wet-towel method of landed fish care, nor have I ever seen it utilized. It sounds like bunk to me, but who knows?

My feeling is that if you’re alone you do have to tire the fish enough to grab the leader, control the fish, and remove the hook. Taking it into the shallows to photograph it just strikes me as something you should avoid at all costs. Fish aren’t designed to lay gasping on their side half out of the water.

And I have to say, that I just don’t buy the idea that someone will tire a fish, unhook it, wrap it in a towel, then carry it gently into the shallows. My experience is that guys drag the fish into the shallows where the fish gives it’s last panicked leaps, battering itself on the rocks.

I shouldn’t worry though, because someone else said this:

Fish encounter rocks all their lives and still manage to live somehow.
True, fish encounter rocks all their lives. But they avoid them, quite assiduously and adroitly I believe. They don’t batter their heads against them repetedly. Its one of the reasons evolution hasn’t graced their brains with by a thick bony skull, but rather by thin cartilaginous material.

As I encounter fewer and fewer fish in the rivers, as the weir and ladder counts go down, I find those ego gratifying fish photos less and less enjoyable, less and less defensible. Me, I’m going to continue working to perfect the quickest, cleanest release I can.
 

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I've never understood with what's wrong with just carrying a net? they actually work very well for landing fish. Not only that, but fish typically calm down once netted. As long as it's rubber, or rubber coated knotless, slime removal is going to be pretty negligible.

Oddly enough, I've seen many many photos from longtime members on this site with that very thing...fish laying down on rocks in several inches of water with the rod right next to it (all in the name of "getting the shot". Rarely do they get called out for it, and every time I think, "wow, that's amazing they can get that fish to stay still for so long"....at least they're "keeping them wet". Have I tried to do that in the past? probably....when I didn't know better.
 

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For several seasons now WA state has actually instituted fish handling rules for selective fisheries. And more recently - mandatory hatchery-retention for certain streams too. If a fish must be released it has to be kept in the water plain and simple. Keep fingers away from the eyes and gills. Makes sense. Use a hook remover whenever prudent or cut the line if the hook was swallowed. Do not use a net but if you must - a soft knotless net or rubber mesh net as mentioned above.

I remember catching plenty hatchery fish with holes punched in their gills years back though. Don't know if this continues to be practice in other streams but those fish must have been handled and transported in very unnatural manners ... and seemed to manage well enough.

I'm not condoning mishandling of fish - wildlife in general - just thinking the fish I have landed with gaping wounds, internal organs bulging out. Ive watched fish beach themselves onto river bank to keep form being eaten by seals. All that thrashing around on rocks ... wild animals acting purely on instinct.
 

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I've never heard of putting a wet towel over a fish's head to get it to calm down prior to release either. I think all anglers should strive to handle the fish they catch as carefully as they can. I don't get excited about anglers landing steelhead in a couple inches of water instead of a foot or more of water. My reasoning is based on two things. First, the density of water that is one, two, or three inches deep is equal to that of water that is a foot deep. It provides substantial cushioning effect to fish even if they don't lay perfectly still while the hook is being removed, and they usually don't in my experience. Second, I managed a native, wild steelhead broodstock project for several years in the 1980s. I can say that the fish handling methods, landing them with knotted polypropolene nets, sliding them into large plastic tubes for temporary holding and then transport to a hatchery where they were crowded and handled once or twice weekly prior to spawning was far less fish friendly than most of the CNR techniques I see used most of the time. All that, and the pre-spawn mortality rate was only 2%.

It is well established that the most significant factor in CNR angling is hook placement, a factor over which we have no control. Beyond that, if anglers exercise reasonable care when handling and releasing their catch, which means keeping them wet, or not removing them from the water for more than a couple seconds, their probability of survival is extremely high. Therefore I'm not going to give a fisherman grief for landing their catch in 2 or 3" of water.

Sg
 

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If you’ve seen a photo of fish that wasn’t harvested, it was handled longer than necessary.

More than half of the “keep em wet” photos I see follow the letter of the law but violate the spirit. I’d rather see a dripping wet fish that’s been lifted from the water, than one laying next to a rod in the water.
 
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