Live Release of Atlantic Salmon….or any fish for that matter!

photo – Gregg Peet

With the 2019 Atlantic Salmon Season kicking off, we thought it would be a good time to cover a topic we are pretty passionate about …Live Release!

With Atlantic salmon populations at all-time lows, the survival of every fish is of paramount importance to allow stocks to recover. The practice of live release contributes to increased spawning success and will ultimately help ensure future generations of wild Atlantic salmon.

We have all heard from a select few, the “fake news” that all released fish die, that is simply not the case, studies have shown mortality only in a very small percentage of released fish (low single digits). One could argue that in those cases, if proper fighting and handling was performed, the rates would be even lower. One thing we can all agree on, is that 100% of tagged fish die.

I am as anxious as the next person to raise a fish, feel that tug and listen to my reel scream… but once that happens, panic sets in.  My focus shifts completely to landing the fish as quickly as possible, and releasing it unharmed.  If the fight is taking too long, I would not hesitate to break it off. In fact at this point, I am just as content to hook a fish, get a jump and lose it.

photo – Gregg Peet

 Key points of live release:

  • Use barbless or pinched barb hooks. Regardless of what people think, physics says if you keep your line tight, you don’t need a barb.
  • Do not over fight the fish. Keep it to one minute per pound at most (ie. 10 minutes for a 10lb fish; less in warmer water). I try and aim for 30 seconds a pound.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut the leader or break it off if necessary.
  • Use the appropriate gear; There is no need to be angling for salmon with a 4wt and a trout reel. This isn’t 1960 and you are not Lee Wulff.
  • Remove the hook carefully.
  • Keep the fish in the water at all times.
  • DO NOT hold the fish vertically.
  • If you want a picture, leave the fish in the water and angle it toward the camera.
  • Hold the fish gently in a natural swimming position, facing upstream so water flows through its gills
  • Keep your mitts away from the gills.
  • Do not release the fish too early, wait until you feel them regain strength.  It will let you know when it is ready.
  • Ensure that it swims away, grab it again if you have to.

Tailing vs. Netting :

I used to be an advocate of using of a wet cotton glove to tail a fish , but there has growing opinion in the scientific community that the use of gloves can remove the protective slim covering the fish, making the fish susceptible to bacteria and fungus that can negatively impact the health of the fish.  The use of a knotless rubberized net that can cradle the fish is looking to be the best tactic.  I am currently exploring options, and will post on that topic later.

One thing to keep in mind, if you are going to tail your fish, be very careful tailing grilse.  The peduncle area (skinny part by the tail) is  much more delicate then on an adult salmon and you could injure the fish by causing trauma to the area.  This could impede its ability to swim.

photo – Mike Bardsley


photo – Jimmie Pedersen

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) has put together a superb video detailing proper Live Release technique, please have a watch :