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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Catch and Release - a guide to GT care

Get the trophy shot, but release the fish in good condition should be your goal

Your weekend trip with mates has you connected to the biggest GT you have ever seen, the adrenalin is wearing off fast, replaced by huge levels of lactic acid making your arms, back & legs burn like wildfire. A few more pumps and the fish will be on the surface ready to be landed for that amazing trophy picture but are you prepared for the next 1-2 minutes? Your dream fish could turn into a nightmare when you return the prehistoric beast to the water waiting for it to power away, only to see it sluggishly kick away from the boat and roll on its side.  For most anglers your ecstasy will be quickly replaced by remorse.  A GT powering back to the reef in good condition is the goal.

Keep the fish wet, no matter what; buckets of water...
More buckets of water...
Deck wash...
Even on small boats - deck wash, just mind the pressure

 Spending a little time preparing for handling large fish will make the GT’s (and your) experience much easier. Following many discussions with experienced anglers, marine scientists & conservation enthusiasts we have put together some simple doctrines to follow to offer the released fish every chance of survival. 
Take your time, get the gaff in the right place

Gaff the lower jaw avoiding the tongue
Large landing nets are also an alternative

 Fish barbless hooks.
A pretty simple thing that often goes unnoticed by many anglers, especially beginner anglers is the damaging effects of barbs. There is no reason to fish barbed hooks if your aim is catch and release, just keep your line tight to avoid losing the fish. Simple as that!

De-hooking, tagging, weighing must be done quickly on on a wet surface
Have a buddy prepare the dehooker/pliers (and a few items listed below) so it is not a mad scramble once the fish is ready to be landed. There is no elegant way to boat your prize unfortunately, but maximum care of the fish is paramount. I genuinely believe the time will come at No Boundaries Oman when we start releasing our fish in the water, but for the moment we bottom lip gaff the fish taking care not to gaff the tongue. Support the entire bodyweight of the fish while bringing it in the boat, if your gunnels are low enough to land the fish safely, make sure you do not bang/rub the GT against the gunnel or use it for leverage.   Large custom landing nets are also an option however they invariably will use a knotted net which will cause some damage to the slime coating however do an excellent job of supporting the fish.
A two person lift is essential
Spread the load - distribute the weight across your knees and use more people to help if needed.  DON'T DROP THE FISH!

As mentioned all fish have a delicate layer of skin on the outside of their scales and this can be damaged if mishandled. The team at Ebb Tide Adventures recommend an easy solution; have a wet down mat, towel or vinyl sheet ready to lay the fish on. Keep the fish off the deck of the boat where possible and ensure whatever surface comes into contact with the fish is already wet. This includes clothes, gloves, knees, towels etc. The aim is to not remove any of the fish’s protective coating whilst handling. Bruno Leroy from the Oceanic Fisheries program (New Caledonia) suggests wearing a vinyl apron when putting the GT on your body/knees for your life long pictures. The less time the fish is out of the water the better, every second counts.

Control the fish before attempting lip gaffing
If possible get the salt water wash down in the fish’s mouth so water can run over its gills. Even pouring a bucket gently into gill plate will help. Do not panic when the fish starts to thrash a little upon water on the gills, it is their instinct to start swimming. A fish out of water is akin to a human holding their breath so be quick with the water! In addition, fish’s eyes are designed for constant saturation, it is good practice to cover the eyes/head with a wet towel to induce less stress and keep the eye from getting dry/damaged. Even immersion of the fish in a large bit or tank is acceptable to keep the gills wet but only for the shortest possible time as deoxygenation will occur quickly.  

When it comes to your trophy photos, remember that fish are weightless in water but now you have 30-60kg of GT resting its guts on your bony knees. With no rib cage your knees are pushing directly onto the fishes internals, be as gentle as possible. Avoiding trying to move the fish with your knees and cradle that thing like a new born so it doesn’t slip off and crash onto the floor, get a buddy to help with large fish and above all spread the load across your knees.  Do not ever pick the fish up only by its tail or mouth, always support the entire weight.

Two man lift, support the weight
When a few photo's have been quickly snapped and it's time for release we favor a head first drop into the water.  The rapid submersion usually see's the fish spring to life and power down.  On occasion a fish will return to the surface and flounder.  A very large percentage of these fish can be revived by spending more time towing them via a lip gaff behind a very slowly moving boat.  If you put the time in, they will come good on the vast majority of occasions.  Since launching the No Boundaries tagging projects for Giant Trevally and Bream I have been very lucky to receive support from far and wide. Commercial anglers, marine scientists and many other charters companies have provided us with a lot of sound advice which we have happily accepted and assisted in compiling this guide. As with fishing skills themselves, it has taken us thousands of releases to increase our knowledge and keep evolving our skills. Looking back on some of our videos/pictures there any many things we would do differently now which is why we wanted to share this information to hopefully help bring guys up to speed ASAP. More often than not, discussing GT’s will entice comments regarding the fish’s brutish nature and how it is one of the best C&R species to target - They rarely move once in the boat and more often than not swim off seemingly without a care in the world. There is always a passion to increase our long term knowledge of this wonderful creature, with angler involvement, science and the wider community to ensure the continuation of our loved sport and the fantastic species!
Ed Nicholas – No Boundaries Oman. 
Special Thanks to – Andrew Smith & John Cahill - Ebb Tide Adventures. Bruno Leroy – Oceanic Fisheries.
Spear them in head first, 99/100 swim away strong in the first instance