By Spencer Durrant
If you don’t know how to hold trout, it’s easy to kill them.
Does that seem hyperbolic?
Well, consider this – a mishandled fish only has a 62% chance of survival after it’s returned to the water.
Trout that are out of the water for 30 seconds have just over a 50-50 chance of surviving. And since they’re not in the business of making new trout streams these days, it’s vitally important that we do all we can to conserve the fish we currently have.
That means learning how to hold trout, especially when you’re grabbing a few pictures to share on social media.
How to Hold Trout
It’s important to use these techniques not only when you’re taking pictures of fish, but whenever handling trout. It should go without saying that regardless of how you fish (conventional gear or fly gear), if you’re not planning to keep what you catch, the least you can do is educate yourself to become a good steward of this wonderful resource.
Finally, before we get into the meat of this post, I want to stress that I’m in no way talking down to anyone. I certainly don’t think I’m some sort of enlightened angler because I release most of the fish I catch. I see this as a way to help folks learn how to take better care of what we all love so much.
One of the most important things to remember when holding trout is not to squeeze. Fish are pretty tough critters, but even they can’t survive having their internal organs squished.
As you can see in this picture, this rainbow trout is being held just enough to support it in the water. It’s not getting squeezed around the pectoral fins, which is a surefire way to kill a fish.
I know it’s counterintuitive, but I’ve found that holding fish a looser grip actually makes them easier to handle for both hook removal and pictures. Focus on supporting the fish instead of squeezing it, and I bet you’ll have a similar experience.
Keep it Wet
The folks over at Keep Fish Wet have done some of the best work in educating the fishing community about the value of keeping fish in the water as much as possible. If you’re curious about any of the information I share here, you can find most of it at the source over at Keep Fish Wet.
Fish need to stay wet as often as possible throughout the landing and releasing process. The more a fish stays in the water, the better chance it has at surviving being caught.
I try to keep fish in the water while removing the hook and getting ready for the picture taking process. Once I have the fish in my hands, and someone has a camera at the ready, I lift the fish out of the water for just a few seconds at most. Remember, trout get their oxygen from the water, not from the air.
Part of keeping the fish wet is making sure you get your hands wet before touching a trout. Even if the fish is still in the water, dip your hands in before touching the fish. This helps minimize the amount of slime you remove when holding a trout. That slime layer actually helps keep trout from getting infections and disease, so it’s important to remove as little of it as possible when handling trout.
Ditch the Bank
Whenever I see a picture of a trout covered in grass, dirt, or leaves, laying on the ground next to someone’s fly rod, boot, or beer can, I cringe. Laying trout down on the ground is a surefire way to kill it. Not only are you removing it from the water for more than ten seconds, but you’re removing the slime layer, too. That’s a double-whammy fish don’t need after a fight to get to the net.
Keep the fish in the water, or just above it, at all times. It’s not worth killing a fish just to show Instagram how big it was compared to your boot.
Keep it Quick
The most important thing to remember about holding trout for pictures is to keep the whole process quick. The less time you spend handling the fish, the better chance it has at surviving the encounter. I aim to have a fish out of the water for no longer than ten seconds.
I know it’s tempting to stare at at fish for a while – especially big trout – but that ends up doing more harm than good. Fish are wild creatures, and being stuck in a net or your hands for extended periods of time will add more stress to the trout.
Quick, simple pictures like this are often enough to remember a fish by.
Again, if you look at this picture, the fish is just laying in the water. It’s still getting oxygen from water flowing over its gills, and it’s a unique perspective that we don’t see too often with fish.
Taking Your Own Pictures
Some of the most memorable pictures I’ve taken of trout aren’t the traditional grip-and-grin shots that dominate Instagram. You can get pretty creative taking pictures of fish by holding them in, or just above, the water’s surface. Lifting a trout quickly out of the water creates a really cool “drip” effect, like this picture below.
As you can see, the fish is barely above the water and the dripping water makes for a unique photo.
And it’s easy to get cool shots of fish in the net, too.
The key to getting these shots is to keep the fish in the water as long as possible, and to minimize how much you’re handling the trout.
I know it feels counterintuitive, but the less time you spend holding trout, the better. Keep them in the water, and keep the time they spend out of it for pictures to a minimum.
Learning how to hold a trout properly will ensure that we all do our part to conserve these fish and leave plenty of them for other anglers to catch.