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  1. Scotland
  2. Findhorn
  3. Catch and release

Catch and release

CATCH AND RELEASE 6 SIMPLE STEPS from River Findhorn District Salmon Fishery Board
  1. Use the strongest practical nylon cast to aid quick landing of fish. Long playing leads to the build-up of harmful metabolites such as lactic acid which kills fish even after they appear to swim away unscathed.
  2. Use single or double hooks but avoid using triple hooks. Pinch the barbs by carefully crimping them with slim-jawed pliers. This is better than using barbless hooks.
  3. Try and plan your release strategy as you are playing the fish - think where the best area would be to net or beach, unhook & release your fish. Avoid sandy beaches and silty bays, and where there are extensive areas where the water depth is shallower than the depth of the fish.
  4. Take great care in handling fish. It helps if there are two of you so try and fish in pairs. Do not pick the fish up by the tail and carry it to the bank for unhooking purposes. If possible, use a wide-mouthed small knot-less mesh net to minimise handling and remove the hook and release the fish while still in the water. Wet the hands first or use surgical gloves and wet them as well, avoid the gill area, do not squeeze the stomach and take care not to rub off scales. Turning the fish upside down will often prevent it from struggling. Use your knees or the river bank to keep the frame of the net level and just above the water surface.
  5. Use long-nosed artery forceps or slim-jawed pliers for removing hooks.
  6. Try to minimise out of water and handling times. Return the fish as quickly as possible. Some photographers keep fish out of the water far too long, considerably reducing their chances of recovery. Support it until it has recovered enough to swim away.


  1. Salmon start to become uncomfortable at water temperatures of 20 ̊C (68F) or more and there is documented evidence that with a water temperature above 20C salmon may not survive C & R.
  2. Early morning fishing is best from a welfare point of view the as the water temperature will be at its lowest. As the day wears on into the evening on a hot sunny day the fish will be very reluctant to show any interest in taking a fly. A reduced fishing effort at this time decreases the chances of over stressing the fish as there is still an element of stress caused by fishing over them.
  3. If a fish is hooked the playing increases the fish’s requirement for oxygen, and as warm water holds less of it, they can struggle to catch their breath when released. Great care must be taken to unhook in the water and not remove it to improve its chances of survival on release. The fish should be gently held upright in the water until it is fully recovered so allow plenty of time before releasing it.

General Advice from FishPal.

Playing the fish

If you are 'playing' a salmon you can significantly help its chances of survival by applying the information below. It is worth bearing in mind that less than 7% of smolts return as spawning adults, therefore it is vitally important that the angler who is planning to return his catch is able to tackle this with success and confidence.

Ensure your rod is strong enough to subdue a fish quickly 1 minute per pound weight is a reasonable suggestion for time for landing a fish. To avoid exhausting the fish it is prudent to use 15-20lb leader material where possible. Salmon are not renowned for being cautious about leader visibility. When playing the fish it is the anglers aim to move the salmon out of the fast current into quieter water and have the angler positioned slightly below the fish.

By being below the fish you are able to ensure the salmon is battling the current as well as the anglers tackle whereas if the angler is upstream of the fish the angler is fighting the current and the fish. The fight time is therefore lengthened, perhaps un-necessarily. Make sure you pick a safe place to bring the fish to land. Once the fish is subdued bring it quickly to the bank for hand or net capture.


Landing the fish

Research has shown that exposing a salmon to air for even a short period, for example to take a photograph, can significantly reduce its chances of survival. Keep the salmon in the water at all times. Do not at any time lift a salmon up by the tail as this can damage the tendons in the tail of the fish. Later in the season as the salmon nears spawning time, lifting a salmon by the tail can cause the egg sacs in females and milt sacs in males to rupture into the body cavity which can kill the fish in extreme cases thereafter. At all times support its belly whilst handling the fish in the water.

Use a large Gye-type landing net with knotless mesh which reduces damage to the fish's scales. It is wise to avoid beaching the fish as this again can remove protective mucous and scales from the fish which can lead to fungal infection. The salmon that is being returned cannot be gaffed or tailed by mechanical tailer, as both implements cause considerable damage to the fish and were used historically when fish were being killed by the angler, in the days before the catch and release initiatives, that are currently in place through out many river systems in the UK.

Always handle the salmon with wet hands, or put on soft cotton gloves which need to be wet, when removing the hook from the fish's mouth or body if accidentally foul hooked. This prevents removing the fishes mucous which is the fish's first line of defence against disease and parasites.

It is very important that the fish is kept in the water after being captured and the fish should be supported from beneath, with the hook gently removed either by hand or by means of long-nosed forceps or hook releasing tool. If a hook is deeply embedded and cannot be removed, the leader should be cut close to the hook, as fish released with the hook attached will generally survive, and try not to squeeze the fish too hard, and never hold it by the gills at all times.

Reviving and releasing the fish

After removing the hook, or cutting the leader and leaving the hook or fly in the fish, then we should ensure that the salmon will be supported in the water, facing into the current to allow oxygen uptake by the fish's gills, and given sufficient time to the fish for it to recover. Hold the fish gently until it is capable of swimming away strongly, you will know it is time when you feel it starting to pulse and kick softly. If you release the fish and it turns 'belly up' then quickly capture the fish and support it again for a while facing into the current to allow more oxygen to be absorbed. When the fish is being fought there is lactic acid produced in the muscle tissue which creates oxygen debt and the muscles cannot function adequately Indefinitely.

Releasing a Spring salmon carefully back to the rive(photo Ian Neale)

Avoid weighing the fish if at all possible and if you have to then weigh the net with the fish enclosed in it. A tape measure or a marked off wading stick can be used to take the approximate length while keeping the fish in the water. The size can then be used to formulate an estimated weight and there are many charts available with this information. One day beats may supply this information to visiting anglers on small laminated leaflets with beat conditions. Survival rate is greater at water temperatures below 20°C so be aware of the necessity to quickly subdue and return the fish during the summer months.

Survival chances of released salmon

There has been research carried out by a number of fishery trusts that has shown that the survival rate of salmon caught and released may be close to 100% when we apply the above guidelines and practice.

Spawning success and viability of eggs may be unaffected in salmon caught and released in late autumn using the above guidelines, and they can recover within twenty four to forty eight hours of being captured and are able to spawn successfully.

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