Get Wild: Catch and Release Fish Correctly

Cutthroat trout awaits release along the Blue River on April 20th.
Breckenridge Outfitters / Image courtesy

As outdoor activities have become more and more popular in recent years, it has become more important to protect and conserve the resources we value most. It is essential for us as stewards of our public lands to be active in sharing and, most of all, informing others of appropriate outdoor practices such as leaving no trace.

The Blue River is a popular fishing destination for locals and visitors alike. Anglers populate its tributaries from Hoosier Pass to the confluence of the Colorado River in search of the thrill of hauling trout, brown trout, or rainbow trout.

To ensure that our recreational habits do not interfere with the health and safety of the ecosystem, we must properly handle the fish we catch. Smart catch and release ensures that any fish you catch will remain non-invasive. When fish are released healthily and can continue to reproduce, they play a major role in maintaining our ecosystem. There are three stages to protect fish during catch and release: catch and take down fish; Handle the fish and release the fish safely.


Be quick. Fighting the fish for too long can exhaust them and make it difficult for the fish to recover. Make sure to use heavier lines and tips to reduce the time fish spend at the end of your line. Use barbed hooks. Flawless hooks will allow the hook to stick straight out of the fish’s mouth and therefore will do less damage to the holder than a barbed hook.

fish handling

In recent years, it has become clear to us that the use of rubber nets should be used to take down a fish. The slick rubber bucket of the net protects the sticky fish coating. Fish secrete a sticky substance made of glycoprotein from their cells in their skin. The constant sloughing makes it more difficult for pathogens to enter the fish and for parasites to stick. The function of mucus also supports respiration, ionic and osmotic regulation, reproduction, secretion, communication, feeding, and nest building.

To protect your slime, be sure to take gloves off in the colder months when handling your fish. Gloves will definitely remove this coating from that fish, so be gentle and wet your hands before touching that fish in any way. If you need to get a picture, keep the time the fish is out of the water at least. Gently lift the fish out of the water, take a picture, and bring it back to rest.

fish release

Before releasing those fish back into the water, make sure the fish can fully recover from the fight so that it can swim back into its environment and survive. Place the fish in the water upright and let it breathe. Don’t push them into open water, but let them swim out of your reach. Sometimes, if the fish is having difficulty recovering, move it back and forth in the water to allow the water to move through the gills. Once the fish swims away, you read the water to catch another fish!

Our recreational habits should not harm the health of fisheries. As a fisherman, it may be assumed that you appreciate the beauty of the landscape, the calm rhythm of the river, and the flora and fauna that thrive along the river’s gorge. As the basis of our food web, the river and fish play a major role in supporting countless species.

Ian Cormack

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