DWR News Release
Winter weather has fallen in Utah, and if you’re planning to go ice fishing this winter and want to release the fish you catch, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has some tips to help decrease stress and increase fish survival
Minimize the air exposure time of the fish
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 unfrozen water, which means that the water temperature experienced by the fish is often warmer than the temperatures in which 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. Therefore, it is best to minimize exposure time and release the fish as soon as possible after capture.”
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.
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.”
Safety tips for fishermen
While it is important to decrease the stress on the fish while ice fishing, it is also very important to stay safe. It’s important to dress in layers and have all the gear you need to stay warm.
A general safety recommendation is to not step on ice unless it is at least four inches thick. Keep in mind, however, that ice thickness can vary on a lake. If you see that the ice is four inches thick in one place, don’t assume it’s four inches thick all over the lake. Be sure to drill test holes in the ice as you venture out. You should also avoid placing large groups of people and equipment in a small area – spread the weight.
“As an extra precaution, you can also purchase ice safety spikes, which can help you get off a lake if you fall through the ice,” Oplinger said. “I’d also recommend bringing a rope with you. It’s always a good idea to have someone else with you when ice fishing.”
Find more ice safety tips on the Utah State Parks website.
More information on where to go ice fishing in Utah can be found on the DWR Fish Utah map. Also, be sure to rate the bodies of water you’re fishing this winter on the website. The ratings allow DWR fisheries managers to measure angler satisfaction in a specific body of water. This information helps the DWR improve fishing throughout the state.