Survival & Handling of our Speckled Trout
Last fall, a small group of us were wading the flats near the mouth of the Trinity River out fall. At the time, there were at least a dozen or so anglers, all catchin’ and releasing speckled trout and redfish. The reason I dare bring this sensitive issue up, at least one in five fish was under the state size limit (15 inch) minimum. From this writers and guide prospective, I can assure you now that most of undersize fish were seen floating and the rest probably never made it…………………..
Over half of this group of good fishermen released the undersized trout and redfish with care and consideration. Undersize redfish have a thicker skin with fingernail like scales……….The procedure of the remaining anglers ranged from roughly jerking the hook from the fish’s mouth to holding the fish in a vise-like grip while the hook was being removed. One fisherman in particular, could be heard downwind, removing the hook and then hurled it as far as he could, so I do not catch that one again. I doubt that any of those fish survived after being handled in like manner. This writer has read a number of studies about the percentages of fish that survive being released. Good arguments can made for both sides of survival and mortality. Almost all those lip hooked and handled carefully make it. Most of the others and those that are hooked in the gills will probably not see the light of the next day. Water temperature plays a significant role in their survival rate. Summer time with the oxygen being depleted, mortality is near 100%, while this time of year, survival is almost assured.
In recent years, this writer has become much more careful about releasing fish. Something to do with maturity. When I fished early in my career, in the late 50’s and 60’s, I kept just about everything except piggy’s and hardheads. It was not unusual to keep several ice chests full of all the above-mentioned species. I sold speckled trout at the market in Galveston, along with my grandpa, from anywhere from 10 cents to maybe 15 cents a pound sometimes. There were no size or bag restrictions then, so it was commonplace to have 10-12 inch specs on our stringer or in an ice chest (Igloos came much late). No one then thought we would eventually face a major decline in our fish population (major freezes & pressure). We were then part of the problem, not the solution, as some would say nowadays. It’s human nature to take everything now, without consideration for the future…………………..
If a fish is to survive, it must be handled as little as possible. If it becomes necessary to hold the fish, wet your hands to prevent the protective slime from being wiped off. Then use a hook degouger or needle nose pliers to extract the hook. If the hook is deep in their mouth or near their gills, cut your line and release the fish with the hook still in its mouth. Chances are good the hook will rust and fall free. After the hook is removed, lower the fish gently back into the water. If necessary, work the fish back and forth slowly into the current to allow the water to flow over their gills. Hold the fish by the tail section. Gills are to fish what lungs are to us fishermen. Most times, the fish will swim off with an excellent chance of survival. Never under any circumstances actually throw the fish back into the water. Unless the fish is of the jumping’ species, like tarpon or shook, and speckled trout are not, the hard shock of hitting the water will stun the fish to the point that it will not survive. It will swim off, only to die later…………………..
As always keep in mine, carefully released fish today, has an equal chance to grow and mature for our children and grandchildren. As my Dad once told this writer,” Leave it a little better then you found it”.
God bless you and your families.
U.S.C.G. & T.P. & W. license