Winter weather has descended on the Midwest and North, and if you’re planning to go ice fishing and want to release the fish you catch, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources offers two tips to help reduce stress and increase fish survival.
1. Minimize the exposure time of the fish to the air.
Just as warm temperatures and warm water can have impacts on certain species of fish, freezing weather can also be hard on fish.
Anglers must remember that even though they are ice fishing, the fish they are catching live in water that is not frozen, which means that the water temperature experienced by the fish is often warmer than the to which they are exposed. Water.
“If an angler is fishing on a particularly cold day, pulling a fish out of a hole and exposing it to freezing conditions can be stressful for a fish,” said Randy Oplinger, DWR Sportfish Coordinator. “Water left in sensitive areas such as the gills or eyes can start to freeze and this can cause damage to a fish. So it’s best to minimize exposure time and release the fish as soon as possible after capturing him.”
Minimize the time a fish is out of the water to ensure a successful release.
One way to eliminate air exposure time is to make sure you have quick access to all the tools you’ll need to release the fish quickly and easily.
“One unique aspect of ice fishing is that anglers tend to dress in layers to stay warm, which is definitely recommended,” Oplinger said. “However, they often bury key equipment such as pliers and cameras under these layers. Another key aspect of ice fishing is that anglers often weigh in with two holes that are slightly apart from each other. This makes it it’s easy to forget key gear to release the fish when you’re heading to another hole in response to a strike. What you don’t want to do is increase the fish’s air time because you’re scrambling to find gear. Anglers they must carry the equipment they need to release their fish in an easily accessible location.”
One idea for doing this is to keep the pliers on a lanyard around your neck so they’re easy to find and access. Another idea is to keep all your gear in a bucket or sled so it’s easy to find and doesn’t get buried in the snow on the ice.
You have dedicated pockets in your winter parka to carry all the tools you need to quickly unhook fish. For species with teeth such as pike (above), make sure you have a jaw splitter in addition to long nose pliers. A tape measure is quick and convenient to quickly get a measurement before releasing a fish.
2. Eliminate contact with dry surfaces.
Gloves are usually recommended when ice fishing to protect the angler’s hands from the freezing conditions. These gloves, however, are often made of absorbent fabric. Fish have a protective slime layer on their skin, and wearing gloves while handling the fish can remove the slime layer.
“This can leave the fish more susceptible to various skin problems, such as fungal diseases,” Oplinger said. “I know it’s hard to take your gloves off while ice fishing because it’s cold, but it’s best to handle the fish with your bare hands. Once the fish have been safely released, you can put your gloves back on.”
Do not touch a fish you intend to release with gloves or dry hands which will remove the slime layer from the fish; wet hands are best. Tip: Bring a small towel to quickly dry wet hands before putting your gloves back on.