After the landing….

When I catch catfish, I’m having a hard time unhooking them. I’m a beginner, and it feels weird. What’s the best method to unhook them?

Catching catfish can be a thrilling, savoury experience, with lots of anticipation, followed by the excitement of a fierce strike, and the hard fight to bring the fish in close, then, the first glimpse of your quarry, and the splash and panic of netting and landing it….. and now, you have a giant, angry, flopping, writhing, slippery and really strong animal in your midst, possibly in the confined space of a boat. So, lets wind back here, a bit. Before you put your lines out, make sure you are prepared to deal with the fish you catch. Making sure that there’s no “loose stuff” all over the space is a big asset, or the fish you land will rearrange your whole setup for you, and not necessarily in the way you would like. Keep tackle boxes closed and stowed away from the landing spot, and keep lines, spare rods, food, beverages jackets and so on likewise, away from where the fish are going to be coming in. For the actual landing, you will want to have an appropriately-sized net, a space to lay the fish down once you bring it in, plus a set of needle nose pliers, and possibly a pair of utility gloves. When you get your fish into the landing net, bring it up slowly and place, don’t drop the fish onto the space you have cleared to cope with it. Slide the net off of the fish, and make sure it is turned to face you, head-on, or you will have difficulty unhooking it, not to mention, if it’s a big’un, it will be able to nail you in the legs with its tail. Whomever is doing the unhooking should have the utility gloves on, and the needle nose pliers in hand. Facing the fish, hold it down on the top of its head with your gloved hand, being careful to avoid the sharp spines that most cats have in their pectoral and dorsal fins. Using the pliers, reach into the cat’s mouth and grasp the hook near the bottom of its shank, and rotate it to unhook it. Grasping the line to aid in your unhooking effort may help, but do so ONLY with gloves on, or you could have some serious damage done by a writhing cat yanking on the thin line wrapped around your finger. Using de-barbed hooks to begin with will make the unhooking process much easier. DO NOT just cut off an embedded hook and leave it in the fish, just because you’re having a tough time getting it out – it’s a momentary annoyance to you, but leaving the hook is a cruel practice at best, and a future death-sentence for the fish, in many cases. With the fish unhooked, you’ll have a moment to weigh it, look it over and take a quick photo, and then, if it’s a decent-sized fish, gently release it back to the water, for the future good of the species and the sport.

Dan Eggertsen is a fellow catfish fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on catfish fishing since 2004.

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