Catch and release works. Whether it's preserving a viable fishery in a forty-acre bass lake or letting a trophy-caliber muskie swim back into the cabbage after an exciting battle, the mantra of C&R resounds stronger than ever through sport fishing circles. For those looking to preserve big fish, it is easier than ever to catch and release with some of the newer tools on the market catering to conservation-minded anglers.
Pick a pair of pliers
The classic needle-nose pliers are a staple in every fisherman's boat or tackle box. The elongated gripping nose is a proven tool for getting into tight places, like the mouth of a fish, and help keep fingers a little further away from sharp teeth. Further, the length of the tool allows for greater leverage when tweaking a hook loose.
If basic just isn't your style, there are a number of companies that produce "multi-pliers." These needle-nose pliers are compactable and contain not only the hook-removing pliers but also knives, hook-sharpening files, wire cutters and more. The companies who pioneered these tools - Leatherman Tool Group (www.leatherman.com) and Gerber Tools (www.gerbergear.com) - continue to tweak them for anglers and hunters. Customized for bowhunters, upland hunters and particularly fishermen, these tools are the C&R generation's Swiss Army Knife. Complete with belt sheath, these handy tools can be kept on an angler and deployed with just a flick of the wrist for quick hook removal.
If you're like me, however, it's a miracle that any denser-than-water tool doesn't end up in Davy Jones' locker. With this obvious problem for anglers in sight, XTools (www.xtools.us) created a line of pliers that are guaranteed not to sink when accidentally dropped overboard. These high-tech glass-polymer pliers have foam-encased handles and float on water. The easily recognizable blue-and-green color scheme of the XTools line makes them stand out from competitors' offerings, and the fact that they float gives them a distinct advantage in the tool-retention department.
Get a grip
I've often told people about some of the bigger fish I've caught simply by giving the length of the fish, and the follow-up question always is "yeah, but what did it weigh?" A 19-inch smallmouth can weigh between four and six pounds and a 29-inch walleye is anyone's guess, so I have no definitive answer for such questions. But with the Boga Grip (www.bogagrips.com) fish-landing tool, guessing the weight of a caught-and-released fish is a thing of the past. What's more, hands stay clean and clear of teeth and sharp gill plates and the stress on your C&R trophy is greatly reduced.
The Boga Grip has a built-in spring-style scale that measures a fish's weight up to 15-, 30- or 60- pounds, depending on the model. The curved jaws of the Boga Grip wrap securely around the jawbone of most fish and provide anglers control over the fish without placing their hands near eyes or gills or having to touch the protective slime coat on all species. The Boga Grip prevents damage to fish and speeds along the catch-and-release process.
Landing nets have come a long way since rope was first woven around a wooden or metal frame. For catch and release anglers, nothing can be more frustrating than when a monster muskie or northern pike does her trademark "gator roll" in a standard net, making not only a mess of the equipment, but also damaging its slime coat, scales, gills, fins and jaws.
Many of today's nets are designed with the conscientious angler in mind. Take for example Cabela's (www.cabelas.com) series of rubberized landing nets. These knotless, soft-rubber nets are available in models ranging from panfish-sized to large models designed for steelhead, salmon and muskies. The rubber helps reduce wear on a fish being held in the net and prevents hooks and line from becoming tangled in the material as well.
For anglers searching out big pike and muskie, Frabill (www.frabill.com) offers up a landing cradle designed to keep big fish safe at boatside. The knotless mesh of the Pro-Tech Cradle, along with a built-in ruler of 60 inches, keeps fish protected and submerged while they are unhooked and measured.
These are just some of the recent advancements in catch-and-release technology that are becoming the standard of the sport. The need to preserve quality fisheries has inspired these companies to answer the call of anglers who look to catch and release angling as one method to preserve future fishing opportunities...in our outdoors.