Most of the musky fishing world believes in catch and release. Furthermore, we often partake in conversations regarding the ethics of fish handling and safety. In addition, most of us carry a bunch of gear specifically to protect the fish (and ourselves) during the release process. One of the most important items a musky angler carries is a net.
What if I told you that a net could be one part of your gear that actually harms the fish we all love? Now before you get too fired up, let me explain.
There is a gradient of stressors associated with fishing in general that cannot be avoided and includes use of gear that magnifies those stressors. Acceptable risk/stressors include hooking and fighting the fish. We all assume these two items as risks to fish mortality we are willing to ignore. If this was not true, you wouldn’t have much use for this magazine, and I wouldn’t have this job. You would not fish for muskies.
Once the fish is hooked and nears the boat, each angler is faced with several choices, all of which have varying consequences as they relate to delayed mortality for the fish and potential injury for the angler. The first of which is how to subdue the beast. Most anglers I know use some sort of large net to corral the fish and dislodge the hooks.
Fifteen years ago, I “used” a cradle. The word used is in quotations because despite my extensive use of this gear at work, I found it problematic to put into practice while fishing and had many failures using a cradle. Some of you know what I’m talking about.
Back to that beast in the bag.
Nets come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. Each has a long handle and semi-circular hoop from which a mesh “bag” hangs. This “bag” is of interest to me and at least a few other scientists. Does the mesh type influence post-capture mortality? If so, to what extent?
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