Fly-Fishing in the Selfie Era: A reminder about Proper Fish Handling

Fly-Fishing in the Selfie Era: A reminder about Proper Fish Handling

Hey everyone, just a quick post for everyone targeting trout this year about selfies. Yes, selfies. And proper fish handling, and why it’s important that we prioritize our fish over our own ego’s. We take on the question ‘if you don’t get a picture, did it really happen?’

Our trout, particularly our native trout, already face a myriad of threats all across the board. Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Bull Trout, and Athabasca Rainbow trout are expected to see populations declines of  10-70%, 10-100% and 50-100%, respectively, within the next three generations (15-30 years) based on their current depleted state. That means we must remember the stakes each time we catch and handle a beautiful native fish, and prioritize it’s safe release over a photograph of it. Because I fear there have been too many fish that have been squeezed, dropped, and over handled to death in order to get that perfect picture.

We just have to accept the simple fact that many fish will elude the camera. Many never stop wriggling, and will fight tooth and nail the whole way through. Many have been deeply hooked and have already been handled extensively by the time the hook pops out. Many times you snap a pic but the lens gets wet and all you see is a cloudy smear. The reverse iPhone selfie ( which I myself employ) is not always as graceful as it may look; I have dropped my phone in the river 5-6 times, mid-selfie. I have also been attacked savagely by a horsefly mid-selfie. Downright embarrassing. But the truth is many instances of bad fish handling revolve around getting a picture and it’s this attitude of selfishness (amongst all of us) that needs to shift if we are going to limit the declines to our native fish populations moving forward into a world with more anglers than ever before.

So let’s refresh our memory on some guidelines for proper fish handling. Any angler targeting trout must be familiar with how to safely release a fish once caught. It can often be the difference between life and death.

Proper fish handling includes:

  • Do not fight the fish for longer than necessary, especially if stream temperatures are high
  • Avoid over-handling of the fish; keep the fish wet whenever possible and wet your hands before touching any fish
  • Avoid damaging any organs; do not touch the gills/gill plate, do not squeeze fish, and do not hold fish by the jaw
  • Allow fish to recover energy before releasing it by facing it into the current and letting it swim away when ready

Having pinched barbs and carrying pliers/forceps will greatly aid you in getting the hook out of the fishes mouth quickly. If you are struggling to get hook out, continually let the fish recover in cool water between attempts, and cut your line if hook cannot be removed without excessive stress to fish.

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This fish need water poster is a great framework for proper fish handling!

Proper fish handling is particularly important when stream temperatures are warmer than normal, from extreme heat, drought, or low water levels, all of which will warm water and decrease dissolved oxygen. In many cases, a fish may be handled poorly and swim away, seemingly fine after being released; however, many of these fish will die after being released, due to damaged organs, loss of blood, or from not being able to recover their oxygen levels. During times of heat and high water temps, all fish need to be thoroughly revived in the coldest, fastest moving water before being released. Or even better, avoid fishing at all.


This post in no way directed towards others. In many ways, it is directed at myself. Upon reflection, I have realized that there are days where I try to take a picture of nearly every fish. Days where wanting to get a good picture to share begins to shadow the fishing itself. Even days by myself, where I have attempted far to many iPhone selfies. Photos are much easier to attain when fishing with someone else; but even so, I urge everyone to think of the fish and ensure it’s safe return when trying to capture your next photo, and remember, sometimes its not meant to be.

So what is the answer to the question, ‘with no pics, did it really happen?’ The answer is of course it did , so long as you are not a liar. And since no one else can confirm you are really just lying to yourself. Point being. Take less photos and people can never deny your stories. Take less photos and protect fish.

This summer, I am challenging myself to catch more big fish than ever and take less pictures of them. And I challenge you to do the same. Our community has become so obsessed with showing the world our catches that we sometimes forget to connect with the fish and enjoy that rare moment of handling such a stunning creature in its natural environment. Handle it gently, and with grace. And if you do get a clean photo of a healthy fish recovering gently in the water, that you get to share with the world… well, that is simply a bonus.

This Cutthroat also doesn’t know what to do with his mouth in selfies.

Thanks for reading! Help do your part for our trout and practice proper fish handling techniques this summer!

One thought on “Fly-Fishing in the Selfie Era: A reminder about Proper Fish Handling

  1. Great advice. I’ve seen too many anglers mishandle fish. One thing to add is ALWAYS have that barb pinched. Barbless hooks will allow the angler to release the fish faster with less time spent in the net. Keep up the great work!
    John

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