Catch And Release Vs Harvesting Your Catch

June 30, 2020

There’s a lot of talk in the angler community about the benefits of both practices – catch-and-release and harvesting your catch. Some anglers are hard core advocates for a certain camp, while others see the benefits of both practices depending on the circumstances.

Let’s break down what each of these practices mean, and the benefits of both.


The practice of catch-and-release says it all in its name. Anglers catch their fish, then gently release back into the water (sometimes after a quick photo). But the handling of the fish is what’s really important here. If the hooked fish is out of the water too long, or isn’t released properly, then this practice is all for naught.

Anglers who practice catch-and-release will have a variety of tools with them to ensure a safe catch. Everything from the hooks used (circle hooks or non-barbed hooks) to the nets that keep the fish in the water (with rubber coating to protect the fish’s coating).

Dehooking your catch is a key factor for a successful catch-and-release. Of course the type of fish will determine the ease of getting a hook out. Largemouth bass tend to have large mouths (hence the name) and getting the hook out is easier than other species. If you’re fishing any species with teeth (such as pike, sheepshead, gar, or even sharks), then you’ll want to be extra cautious of getting the hook out. If you can’t safely get the hook out, this study shows that it’s better to cut the line and the fish will work the hook out themselves.

If possible, keep the fish in the water at all times. If you do happen to pull the fish out, releasing it back gently and towards moving water is best. This allows for the water to move through the gills and revive the fish. If there is no moving water, gently move the fish side-to-side to create motion. Hold the fish firmly near the head and tail, but not too firm that the fish can’t move. You’ll want to make sure the fish is steady and revived before it gently swims out of your hands.

If you’re fishing from a river bank or surf, try not to drag the fish across the sand. Boaters need to make sure not to drop the fish (either on the boat deck or back into the water). And make sure you don’t touch the fish too much, touch the gills, or keep it out of the water too long. The quicker you can get the fish back in the water, the better for its survival rate.

There are some states that strictly enforce catch-and-release policies for certain species, either for a season, size limit, bag limit, or entirely. Goliath Grouper and Tarpon are two examples of species that are catch-and-release only in the state of Florida, no matter when, where, or how big the fish. And if you happen to catch a Tarpon over 40 inches, you can’t take it out of the water. Overall, the handling of fish is important to sustain life, and therefore a healthy population.

Harvesting Your Catch

The other option is for anglers to harvest their catch. This essentially means keeping the fish you catch, usually for market or meals. There are also times when harvesting your catch can help the local fishery, if the fish you are removing is a predatory fish in danger of destroying the entire system.

This typically happens in freshwater bodies of water, when a fish is introduced to a system and in turn wreaks havoc by feeding on smaller or weaker fish. Some examples of predatory fish include peacock bass in South Florida, or walleye in the midwest. When anglers keep their catch, they are actually doing a favor to the fishery. There may still be state regulations for seasons and size limits to maintain balance in the system, so make sure you know the rules before you keep your catch.

After harvesting, most anglers will make a feast out of their catch. An onboard livewell will help keep the fish swimming until you can make fillets at the cleaning station. Or pack the fish on ice until you can make fillets. If you’re not having fresh fish at your next meal, then bag it and keep it in a cooler, fridge, or freezer until you’re ready for a delicious meal.

On Your Next Fishing Trip

We understand the benefits of both practices: catch-and-release and harvesting your catch. The way we see it, there are tons of variables that will determine what to do with the fish at the end of your line. Is it in or out of season? Is it too big or too small to harvest? How many have you already caught?

When all else fails we recommend practicing catch-and-release. If you’re not sure whether to keep a catch or not, it’s best to safely release the fish back to fight another day.

Or hire a local fishing guide and go on a charter. They’ll be able to identify the fish on the line, and whether or not it’s good to harvest or release. Search for a professional captain that will get you on the fish, and then recommend which practice to follow. It’ll be a fun day of fishing with no worries!

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