catch and release


I’m headed to Quetico in June and hopefully this will be a problem. I’m planning on doing alot of fishing, but expect to keep only about one fish per day to eat. I really want to try to assure that the fish I release will not die. I’m planning on squashing the barbs on the hooks and removing one set of trebles on most of the lures. I’ve read about techniques to avoid bringing pike into the boat(ie beaching). I am not planning on bringing a net,but can if it is helpfull. I’m considering a small bolt cutter to cut off hooks in really big pike(saw this on TV.). Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks,Roger.

Check out the D-Barb tool
I haven’t used one, but people whose opinion I respect have suggested that it debarbs hooks that are deeply lodged to give the fish a better chance of survival.

Otherwise, handle the fish as little as possible. If you do handle the fish, make sure your hands are wet to avoid removing the protective slime coating from the fish.

Get the fish back into the water as quickly as possible.

I use a net, but I think that’s a matter of personal preference. I’m going to move to a rubber net because I’ve heard they are less harmful to the fish than string nets.

  • Big D

Releasing pike from kayak
Can be problematic (and yes, I hope you are fortunate enough to have this “problem,” too). If the pike is not boated or beached, it is by definition in the water, and pike are notorious long-term thrashers. Plus, they like to clamp their mouths down. So, even if you can stow your rod, you have the challenge of getting the fish’s mouth open and removing (or cutting off?) hooks with just two hands.

I would suggest a spring-loaded mouth-spreader and a long-nosed pliers (at least 4" jaws) with a wire-cutter. Most mouth-spreaders will also hold the pike to a degree so you can remove (or cut?) the hooks. Without the mouth-spreader, you would be forced to try and hold the pike, get its mouth open, and remove or cut the hooks that could be several inches deep in its mouth–a three-handed proposition.

If you do decide to cut hooks (I’ve really never found this necessary), you might want to make sure your wire cutters are up to the task, and bring some extra hooks. It’s no fun having to drop the hot lure because the hooks are now cut off. With a few extra hooks on board, you can switch them out and keep fishing.

Just my two cents. Someone else out there might have a better technique handy. And good luck!

I don’t like landing nets
I have been fishing in the BWCAW/Quetico area since 1969. I have faced many of the same questions that you are raising. I decided early on that landing nets were not worth the effort on wilderness trips. The small nets that would be feasible to bring would only be a help with the smaller fish that I didn’t really need help with anyway. I began practicing on medium size pike (30-35 inches) until I became comfortable and proficient in grabbing them underneath the jaw. To date, I have landed 11 northerns of 40+ inches of my own and almost as many for my fishing companions (all safely released I might add). I do not “beach” them, but I land them from the canoe, often while solo. If I am solo and can’t take pictures anyway, then I just get their head out of the water with my left hand and use a pair of needle nose pliers with my right hand to remove the hooks. If my partner is on board and can take a picture, I still remove the hooks before bringing the fish inside the canoe. Use your other hand to support their belly and hold the fish horizontally. Get it back in the water as quickly as possible and spend some time moving it back and forth to get water pumping through the gills.

More recently, I have smashed the barbs on all of my “pike” lures. I can honestly say that I do not think that I have lost even one pike due to the smashed barbs. However, I also believe that smashed barbs on “smallie” baits caused major problems keeping fish hooked. I have gone back to barbed hooks on all of those baits. Since I do a lot of my smallie fishing late into the evening and even after dark, I now use a fish grabber to keep my hands away from the other hooks while landing smallies. I haven’t tried it on any pike yet, but it should work on them as well. Let me know if you have any questions.


Catch and release
Some note from a like minded fisherman:

  1. Pay close attention to the fish you choose to eat. Look for the one who is over exhausted or tangled itself in your line alongside the boat as the first candidate for dinner. This is the fish most likely to not make it anyway.

  2. A good net can be helpful if it is made from a good quality material designed to not harm the slime layer.

  3. replace your treble hooks with singles. You’ll never know the difference except when you have an easier time releasing.

  4. Mash barbs rather than file them off. The little bump remaining helps retain the hook in a fight but is not a problem when extracting.

  5. Handle as little as possible and always with WET hands.

    Have a great trip! I wish I was going too!


catch and release
Thanks for all the help. could you give more detail on grabbing a pike under the jaw. My only experiece with landing a large pike without the net was painfull. I grabbed it through the gills which did a number on my hand. (rest of the story involes me trying to measure the brute and lunging for his tail as he exited the solo race boat I was using). I ended up swimming sans glasses and boots! I’m happy to replace the trebles on my big spoons with singles if that is a help. Thanks again,Roger.

Ontario Sportsman Licsense
I grab pike behind the eyes, over the gill plates, I squeeze the gill plates shut. This seems to stun them with their jaw open. Usually stops thrashing long enough to remove lure. I use pliers to remove lures because I can do so quickly without tearing flesh, just by retracting the hook. It is hard for me to do without pliers. So typically I work fish in the water to left side of boat with right hand on rod. Pick up fish by back of neck with left hand. Have pliers now ready with my right hand. And back in the lake. Never that easy. Keep your hands wet or gloved.

A lot of walleyes caught on jigs can be released without lifting out of water. If the jig is sticking out of lower lip, you can release by grabbing jig head and extracting hook–never even touching the fish.

Rapalas are tough on fish. I have caught fish with rapalas with only the back treble hooks (unscrew the treble in the bottom of rapala). These middle trebles on large rapalas always seem to get stuck in little northern eyes or gills. I remove the middle trebles on “flat fish” or “lazy ikes” also.

Have fun.

They usually offer a “Sportsman” licence for those of us practicing C&R. It allows a minimum number of fish kept (1 per species??) and only within certain sizes.

grabbing a pike
I could show you how to grab a pike under the jaw easier than trying to put it into words, but here goes. First of all, I handle pike up to about 36" in length by grabbing them across the back with my thumb at the top of one gill and my fingers at the top of the other gill just the like the previous poster explained. This does seem to “freeze” the fish and allows me to remove the hooks with a set of needle-nose pliers which I always keep handy. However as pike get over 36" in length, I felt that I was possibly damaging them handling them this way and as they get over 40", your hand isn’t big enough to grap them this way. I started by practicing on 30-35" fish. I would grab them across the back with my left hand, remove the hooks, and then use my right hand to try getting ahold of their right jaw bone. As you have already found out, the gill plates themselves are very sharp and will cut your hands badly. You have to enter the gill on the underside of the fish up near the end of the jaw. This area is very soft. Work your fingers into this area until you can grasp the jaw bone between your fingers and the palm of your hand. Your fingers will not come in contact with the teeth. You can then slide your other hand under the belly to help support the weight. Once you get used to where to put your hand, then you can start landing then using this method instead of grabbing them across the back. Again, I only land the bigger fish this way. I still land anything under about 36" by grabbing them across the back. In any event, do not bring the fish inside of the canoe until you have the hooks removed. The last thing that you want is a large pike loose in the canoe with hooks in its mouth. Please let me know if you have any other questions or if anything needs further clarification.


try circle hooks
they always put the hook in the corner of the mouth making releases easy and minimal damage to the fish. gut hooking a fish is almost impossible with them. they also set themselves should you not be watching so close. they are used for tarpon ,billfish, grouper, would definately work on pike. you have to let them "take " the bait and run a little and just a little tension will set the hook in its proper place.

Length Envy!
unfortunately I do not have a lot of experience releasing Pike over 36", and I have only caught 3 over 40" (at least one of those was too big to get my hand around the back). But I have small hands.

Circle hooks are used more for bait than for lures,they do not work well with plugs but it’s possible they may work on spoons.

Keep in mind one does not “set” the hook as one would when using a plug but simply tighten up on the line as previously stated.

Catch & release
Love your attitude about Catch and release, it shows serious respect. The barbs aren’t so bad but I too have struggled with the treble hook issue, I have actually seen the multi treble hook really mess up a beautiful fishes mouth and that is no fun. I have been trying to remove some of the hooks off the the three treble design any body ever hear about single hook replacements for trebles?

Chris H

Hello Dave

Well you certianly sound very knowledegeable. I respect the catch and release philosophy tremendously!

Now how about the problems with treble hooks? You know whe the fish gets more than one treble hook caught in the mouth? What do you do to tone down the trebles?

I have been trying to cut them so only one hook remains but… they don’t always come out that smooth and I alwys wionder does it affect the balance handling of the lure?

Thanks Chris H

treble hooks and barbs
Hi Chris,

Changing treble hooks to single hooks would definitely effect the balance and action of at least some lures. I crimp the barbs on the treble hooks of any lure that I use primarily for trolling. With the barbs crimped, it is relatively easy to remove the hooks. I do not believe that I have “lost” any pike due to the crimped barbs and I have only “lost” a few walleyes. Smallmouth bass are another story. I believe that crimped barbs definitely effects the catch rate on them. Therefore, I do not crimp the barbs on my bass lures.

I would suggest buying a “Boca Grip”. It latches on to the mouth of the fish while keeping your hands away from the hooks. You can then use needle-nose pliers in your other hand to work the hooks loose. Avoid lifting the fish completely out of the water if you can. Let me know if you have anymore questions.


Treble Replacement
Yes, Eagle Claw and others make an open eyed Siwash you just cut your treble hooks at the eye and replace with siwash and a pair of pliers to close the eye. Most replacement hook are lazer sharpened and come in nickle for saltwater. You can still close the barb and your lure will get hung up two thirds less often. Most west coast steelhead and salmon fishermen do this at the time of purchase, saves money and fish.