Whether you like it or not, catch and release is a reality on most waters. In some cases fish must be released in order to comply with regulations while in other cases anglers voluntarily choose to release some if not most of the fish they catch. Of course catch & release is not going to benefit any angler or fish if released fish do not survive, and that is the reason we would have a “silly” rule on the books that requires anglers to wet their hands before they handle fish (I am serious, if you look hard enough you can find that rule way back in some dusty volume). Unfortunately, while on the water, I have seen a darned lot of poor fish handling, and then to make it worse have listened to a darned lot of anglers complain about certain regulations because those poorly-handled fish were “going to die anyway”. During times when fish are not biting, I think about a lot of things, and as I think about it, it seems to me it is downright negligent and disrespectful to the fish and the resource to NOT be properly prepared to handle fish in the best way possible.
There was a time years ago, when I would have told you the last thing you wanted to do with a fish that might be released would be to put it in a landing net. “Back in the day” landing nets typically were made of nylon or some other cord that was knotted into mesh. Those net materials were very abrasive to the fins and slime coating of fish. But, that was then; there are a whole lot of excellent landing nets that are available now. In fact, I would tell you that one tool EVERY ANGLER should have would be a modern, quality landing net! If you are thinking about Christmas gift ideas, a landing net would be a good one.
With a landing net, anglers can land fish as quickly as possible. Once the fish are in the net, the net can be left in the water while hooks are removed. If a picture is desired, an angler can again leave the fish in the net, in the water, until the camera is ready for a quick photo. By using a quality landing net the whole landing, handling and release of a fish can be accomplished as fast as possible with as little handling and as little time out of the water as possible. I believe it is the fastest and safest way to handle fish and that goes for the fish and angler alike.
However, I would still tell you that it has to be the right landing net, and I am a huge fan of the rubber mesh landing nets. I have had a rubber mesh landing net for years, have worn out a couple or three. The rubber mesh is very “easy” on the fish and causes relatively little damage to fins and slime coats. Oh, removing hooks from rubber mesh nets is a lot easier too. There are a variety of manufacturers that offer a variety of sizes and styles of rubber mesh landing nets; any angler should be able to find one they like.
There are also a number of other landing nets on the market that are made specifically for catch and release, specifically for the best handling so fish can be released with the best possible chance to survive. Those nets typically will be over-sized, may have flat bottoms that allow fish to lay horizontal in the bottom of the net, are made of knotless mesh and usually have a mesh that is coated with rubber or some other material to make the mesh less abrasive. Again, I will tell you that there are a lot of manufacturers that offer a lot of different types of landing nets, but those are some of the features you should look for in a “catch & release”, fish-friendly landing net. If you need some examples of quality landing nets,
If you want some additional ideas on fish handling procedures and tools, go back and check this old blog post, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2010/05/fish-handling/ .
I will only make one comment about actually landing fish with a landing net. When landing a fish with a landing net, do not chase the fish with the net. The best way to land a fish with a landing net is to place the net in the water and wait for the fish to be led, head-first, into the net. Be patient and wait until the fish is ready to be netted. If a fish cannot be controlled and guided into the net, hooks can get tangled in the net before the fish is completely in the net and then bad things happen. If you are fishing with a partner, it is not a bad idea to discuss and rehearse your netting procedures before the moment of truth arrives.
And everyone needs a good net person!