Reducing Stress When Fishing Catch and Release?

Stephanie Mehalick with a bright rainbow trout caught in Putah Creek. By keeping the fish in the water and minimizing her holding time prior to release, the fish stays calm for a quick and successful release. (DFG file photo by Rodger Bloom, Heritage and Wild Trout Program)

Question: I enjoy fishing, abide by all laws and keep only what I will consume … even when the fish are biting exceptionally well! A while back I heard reports that at San Luis Reservoir the fishing was so good that some people were catching up to 30 fish a day. Considering how stress lowers the survival rate for a lot of fish after being caught and released, are there any regulations regarding such practices? (Daniel S.)

Answer: While catch and release fishing for most fish is legal, it can be very stressful for some fish depending on the species and the conditions. Remember, once an angler has retained his or her daily bag or possession limit, by law they must stop fishing for that species including catch and release fishing.

Studies done to evaluate the stress and mortality levels of striped bass, for example, that were caught and released have shown the mortality rate is probably much higher than most people think. Fish caught during the winter when temperatures were cooler did better following release than those caught during the summer. During the warm weather months when air and water temperatures were high, stress and mortality levels were considerably higher.

Where the fish is hooked, how deep the hook is embedded and how long the fish is played are some of the key factors affecting stress levels. The angler’s fishing abilities and how the fish is handled and released can also significantly affect the level of stress and possible resulting mortality the fish may face.

For fish that will be released, try to keep the fish in the water at all times, handle it as little as possible and try not to disrupt their protective slime coat. If the hook appears to be deep and not easily removed, cut the line and leave the hook in the fish. The less time the fish is on the line, the better its chance for survival.

By considering water conditions, air and water temperatures, fishing techniques and how the fish is handled prior to release, anglers can directly influence the well-being of the fish they are catching and releasing, and this goes for all species.

Remember, just because a fish swims away when released, this does not mean damage has not already been done and that the fish won’t still die in the upcoming hours or days from the experience. But, by considering all of these factors and trying to minimizing their stress, the fish will have a better chance of survival to be caught again on another day.

Use of Lead Bullets
Question: I was planning to hunt quail and rabbit with a 12 gauge shotgun in the Los Padres National Forest until I noticed a statement on their Web site saying lead bullets have been banned for hunting in the historic condor range, including the Los Padres National Forest. It also said we must remove or bury all gut piles. Is the DFG enforcing this lead free rule for rifle/handgun bullets ONLY or does it also include shotgun shot while in the condor flight area? My intent is to hunt upland game birds and small game which have a small/no gut pile. (Mark N., Simi Valley)

Answer: The lead free regulations currently apply to the use of lead for big game and non-game mammals. Rabbits and tree squirrels are classified as small game and were not included in the current regulations. Quail, tree squirrel and cottontail rabbit seasons closed on Jan. 25. Jackrabbits may still be taken throughout the year with lead bullets.

The use of lead shot for upland bird hunting is still legal but at least two military bases with public hunting programs (Fort Hunter Liggett and Camp Roberts) have banned lead shot as an area-specific regulation.

Do You Need to Measure When Hooping?
Question: A lobster fisherman who uses hoops told me that everyone aboard a vessel and hooping for lobster must have a measuring device in possession. I can understand a team of divers having to individually possess a measuring device, but is it true that everyone aboard a small vessel must have their own device or will one measuring device suffice for everyone aboard? (Fred H.)

Answer: Your friend is correct. Every person while taking invertebrates which have a size limit shall carry a device which is capable of accurately measuring the minimum legal size of the species taken (CCR Title 14 Code Section 29.05 [c]). Therefore, everyone must carry their own gauge.

Is It Legal to Release Domestic Animals and Hunt Them?
Question: Is it legal in California for someone to take a ram or a pig and let it loose on public BLM land … and then hunt them? (John S.)

Answer: No, it is not legal to release domestic animals onto property that does not belong to the owner or the governing public agency. It is also against the law to relocate wildlife (F&G Code 2118).

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

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