We’ve all seen it done.
On TV, in magazines and books, at every tournament and all over the Internet. All – of us if we’re truthful! – have done it. Many still do. Many more will, unfortunately, continue to do it. Despite the facts. The results of this all-to-common action, is death. What is it you say?
The answer is: the Horizontal One-Hand Lip-Grip Hold.
You know, the one. Yeah, it’s grip part of the ‘Grip-n-Grin’; used to show off that beautiful big bass you’ve just caught. Showing you holding your trusty rod & reel; kissing ‘da bass, ‘Dance Style’; mugging for the camera – someone else or, worse yet!, a self-portrait; encouraging envy among your fishing party … and many other routinely justified purposes.
It may be popular and one could even say, “Well, everyone is doing it!” And about that part, you would be correct; nearly everyone IS doing it. But, there is no support for continuing to do it
Fishermen must STOP USING
this damaging hold and STOP NOW!
Here’s HOW and WHY we must stop the damage.
Despite the fears of some, we can fish, enjoy the catch and protect the resource. If we execute the process correctly, we can also begin to regain credibility among the non-fishing population.
The Problem: Gripping the lower lip (dentary), while holding the fish horizontal with one hand. Thus, forcing the entire body weight of the fish to be supported at the operculum fulcrum point OFP
The Result: The muscles, ligaments and sinew connecting the OFP with the rest of the skeleton and supportive muscles and tissue, are subjected to extreme flexion. At the minimum, such a hold will expose the fish to severe muscle stress and strain, resulting in an inability to use the systemic complex for eating. This puts a fish at high risk of being a fatal release. In the worst case, the stressed muscle and cartilage are damaged, along with the connecting tissue, with possible socket dislocation. This would be roughly, a broken jaw, and a 100% post release mortality: aka, dead fish.
History of ‘Lip Grip’ method: This technique has been around since bass have been caught, landed and admired. However, since the advent of TV Fishing shows many more people are now suddenly influenced by the visual experience. A far more effective and powerful medium, TV, than the photos published in outdoor magazines, its influence: in this case: is tragic.
TV fishermen such as Roland Martin and Bill Dance became celebrity’s for their action-packed fishing display antics. Because of the outdoor TV personalities growing popularity and the desire of people to emulate, the problem has been perpetuated and a damaging trend established. It’s now an extensive problem and needs to be reversed. Far too many bass – many of trophy size – are ending up as turtle food that were released with the intention of maintaining a healthy recreational fishery.
The ‘lip grip’ problem is not as pervasive with ‘toothed fish’ – for obvious reasons. This is not to say they are free from the problem. Mechanical devices such as the boga-grip, if improperly used, will also cause serious damage to the fish.
Cause of the PROBLEM: It’s a muscle thing. Bass (all sunfish) eat by sucking prey into their buccal cavity (mouth). Open Jaw > Suck in water and prey > close Jaw > expel water out gills > swallow prey (food). It is that simple. However, the force generated to perform the ‘suck’, is considerable and requires a great deal of muscle strength. The muscles needed to do this are all jointly connected to the operculum fulcrum point (OFP). This is the same point where, in an improperly held fish, all the pressure of the fishes body weight – suspended without support – is focused. When those muscles are strained or injured; let alone torn; the ability to generate the suction necessary to capture prey is greatly reduced or, eliminated.
Recovery time is proportionate to the severity of the injury. In studies conducted on the suction power generated during feeding, results have shown the stresses generated during the feeding process to be just short of resulting in injury. Thus, a fish with an injured muscle or set of muscles, needed for feeding, is just not going to be able to eat. A fish that cannot eat is a dead fish. The dangerous complexity of such a scenario is compounded with a competitive population density for available prey, the mortality probability rises to unacceptable levels. This is a problem that can – and should – be totally avoided.
Solutions: There are several workable solutions to alleviate the problem inherent in the ‘lip grip’ technique.
- simply holding the fish with two hands, in a horizontal position will work best.
- a purely vertical hold, by the lower lip (dentary) will work on smaller fish.
- Large bodied bass – actually all fish over 3lbs – suffer an elevated potential for internal damage from the vertical position and thus should be avoided.
- use of mechanical lip-grip tools have been widely publicized. These tools work very well on restraining large fish – especially those with teeth that obviate a ‘lip grip’ by hand or to remove aggressive hooking methods (treble and barbed hooks) in fresh and saltwater. They are, however, not without their damage potential and controversy.
- Studies on popular sport angling fish species, like the tarpon and bone fish, have shown mortality rates as high as in the 80% range. Far too high to maintain any kind of a sustainable release population.
The best solution to the problem is:
- minimize handling of the fish using a Lite-Touch™  method
- release in-the-water whenever possible (read: ALWAYS for big fish; safety for both fish and fisherman is primary with big, trophy sized fish. Big fish do damage to themselves, fishermen and tackle when removed from the water; a primary concern regarding the ‘toothed fish’. ‘Avoidance of any action that might cause harm to a non-harvested and to-be-released fish‘ – should be the prime directive for any large fish.)
- use barbless hooks for faster, easier removal
- use protective coverings on hands (wet, or glove) to minimize skin-to-scale contact
- keep the photo sessions short and in-the-water; when out-of-water photos are to be taken, do so with a full-body support hold; pre-wet your hands (dip your hands in the water BEFORE handling the fish – or better yet, wear protective holding gloves and pre-wet;
- then quickly return the fish to water.
The Lip-Grip is OUT. The Lite-Touch™ is IN!
[Read the first online commentary on this subject, posted on Bill Anderson’s blog, Muskoka Outdoors 13 JULY 2006 .. http://muskokaoutdoors.ca/blog/2006/07/13/dont-kill-the-fish-you-release/ … in which I commented on Bill Anderson’s Muskoka Outdoors blog, regarding a bass he was holding in a vertical orientation]
 Lite-Touch™ (Pending) … it’s really quite a simple idea. Amazing isn’t it, how simple methods do work the best.
Lite-Touch™ is just what is sounds like. If you are going to release a fish, instead of killing it, then follow the three…
M+H+S = LFR
- MINIMAL contact with the fish
- HORIZONTAL, 2-hand-support… ONLY!
- SHORT duration – DO NOT exceed a 2 minute maximum out-of-water-timeline!
- M + H + S = LFR (Life Following Release)
It works. Simple as that.
—- Editors Notes —
—05.13.11 NEW LOGO + Clarification + Links + Interview —
The article was updated to include the new (1) Lip-Grip NO! logo. (2) Minor, no meaning change, edits for clarification. (3) Expansion on the Lite-Touch™ terminology; typography; definition; and, addition of the M+H+S = LFR formula. (4) Links were added to the Lip-Grip NO! page of images and code, being made for public distribution. (5) A link to the Dan Small Outdoors Radio show interview of the topic Lip-Grip is Out!, was added under the Lip-Grip NO! logo.
—05.17.11 Clarification + Correction —
The article received additional editorial changes for clarification and a correction. (1) Clarifications were minor word corrections [ to > too; your >you’re; a > an; etc.]. (2) Correction was for a typo error: operculum fulcrum joint was corrected to read operculum fulcrum point. Also two incorrect acronyms typos were corrected (3) from OFJ to OFP; and one additional (OFP) was added.
— 08.06.12 Additional Information: Vertical-One-Hand-Lip-Grip-Hold—
We have seen the need to add – in addition to the Horizontal-One-Hand-Lip-Grip-Hold we are including the equally devastating and potentially fatal, Vertical-One-Hand-Lip-Grip-Hold. Because fish live in an aquatic environment, developed for the neutral-buoyancy environment of water, it only stands to reason the connective tissue is not designed to endure the same strain imparted in an ‘air’ environment.
When a large fish is taken from its aquatic (water) environment, there is an immediate physiological shock to its system. The weight of its body parts are immediately translated across it’s framework of skeletal and connective tissue. If you are a hunter and a fisherman, and have participated in the ‘butchering process’, remember back to the ‘toughness’ of the tissue in a deer, elk, moose.. turkey even and other birds. Also, think about the bones of the mammals. How dense and strong they were. And even though the bones of birds are less dense than mammals, they are also far denser than fish bones. There is a reason: GRAVITY.
On land, animals have the force of gravity pulling against their skeletal structure and all of the connective tissues holding the muscle to the bone: cartilage, tendon, other soft tissue; including blood vessels. All organs are also adapted to the tug of gravity. So, all parts of a land mammal are already prepared for the force of gravity on them: inside and out.
Fish, on-the-other-hand, do NOT live in a gravity-affected environment. They live in the environment of Neutral Buoyancy; A near Zero Gravity environment. This is why astronauts-in-training, train in water; to mimic the effects experienced by the zero-gravity environment of space.
The physiological effects, felt by a ‘fish-out-of-water’, are not unlike that of what humans who have been exposed to long-term space; where weightlessness contributes to bone loss; connective tissue delamination; muscle atrophy, hypoxia and asphyxia. Weightlessness; the apparent absence of gravitational pull; is the natural condition to which fish are accustomed in a ‘water atmosphere’. But humans are designed to function in an ‘air atmosphere’. The same environment that offers no support for the fishes internal organs.
Additionally, blood flow and oxygen up-take (respiration: ie, breathing!) is made possible by the neutral buoyancy environment – for fish. When on land, even if a fish can breath air; as a few species can; it is more difficult for them – to impossible – for the fish to get oxygen into it’s blood. Gravity pulls everything toward the center of the earth. For the fish this is ‘away’ from where it needs: blood to flow; oxygen to respire; food to digest; enzymes to mix; etc! Fish do NOT work in gravity. PERIOD.
When we bring fish out of the water environment they live in, its just like we humans are when pulled into the water without auxiliary breathing; the aid of friction; the aid of gravity. Without the effects of gravity, we cannot walk, our bones weaken; our connective tissue deteriorates; or blood thickens and flows slower … we begin to die. The same thing fish do when we pull them from their water environment into our gravitational environment.
If you are HARVESTING the fish.. fine. The fish is intended to die and be used for food. BUT..!!! – IF the fish is intended to be returned, vis-à-vis, Catch-n-Release, then removing the fish from the water, for any length of time is putting the health, if not the life, of the fish in danger: UNNECESSARILY.
Some fish are tough. Others are not. But it is better to ‘ere’ on the safer side and treat all fish as if they just cannot be removed from the water: IF the fish is intended to Caught-and-Released.
Adding this bit of Outdoor Wisdom to our interaction with the precious resource we know as Nature, will only strengthen that relationship and provide increased assurance that Nature will still be accessible; available; healthy; and .. around.
— 07.22.16 Additional Information: Ontario Fisheries Study–-Catch-and-release angling: A review with guidelines for proper fish handling practices – S.J.Casselman, Fisheries Section, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources – July 2005 http://goo.gl/ea9bxp
The Executive Summary from the Study…
The use of catch-and-release practices by anglers is increasing. This increase is a result of both anglers viewing the process as a conservation technique and also because catch-and-release practices are being mandated by fisheries managers. Despite the widespread use of catch-and-release, there is generally a lack of understanding regarding the mortality caused by the practice and how variation in catch-and-release techniques may affect the level of mortality.
Fortunately, the increase in catch-and-release practice by anglers has coincided with an increase in research examining catch-and-release practices. While most of the studies to date have been species specific, there are general recommendations that can be made based on the available information.
While catch-and-release is physiologically stressful, stress and therefore mortality can be minimized by following some general catch-and-release guidelines. Gear should be appropriate for the species being angled, allowing for quick retrieval. The use of barbless hooks and circle hooks should be considered to reduce the amount of time required to release fish. Air exposure should be minimized and fish should be released quickly.
Depth of capture, hooking location and bleeding should be taken into account when deciding on whether or not to release a fish. When performed correctly, catch-and-release can be successful with minimal harm to the fish and should be encouraged. However, due to the variation among species in response to catch-and-release techniques, it is recommended that further research is needed to create species-specific guidelines.
From the Introduction …
One of the key components to the increased use of catch-and-release practices, both by anglers and fisheries managers, is the assumption that fish which are released actually survive the experience. This assumption comes from the observation that when fish are released after being caught they generally swim away, apparently unharmed. However, research indicates that most mortality occurs some time after release (Muoneke and Childress, 1994), thus fish that appear healthy upon release may later exhibit injuries or distress caused by catch-and-release practices. Given the potential impact of mortality on the success of catch-and-release as a management practice, there is an increased demand to understand the level of mortality caused by catch-and-release and determine how various factors may affect catch-and-release survival.
The impact of mortality caused by catch-and-release practices is often underestimated by both anglers and fishery managers. From a review of 118 catch-and-release studies (Appendix 1), which, in total, involved over 120,000 fish, the average mortality associated with catch-and-release angling was 16.2%. Thus, while many anglers may assume that by practicing catch-and-release they are having no impact on the fish population, a significant number of released fish may die. Additionally, many anglers will continue to fish after they have caught their limit under the premise that they will release all further fish caught, however they often do not take into consideration the number of fish which will inadvertently be killed as a result of this practice.
From the Catch-and-Release Guidelines..
Handling and Photographing a Fish
- Keep fish in the water as much as possible to minimize air exposure.
- Never place your fingers through gills or in the eyes.
- Don’t hold heavy fish by the jaw as this may damage the jaw and vertebrae.
- Hold large fish horizontally and support its body to avoid damage to the internal organs.
- Use wet hands or wet cloth gloves to handle the fish.
- Have camera ready prior to landing fish to minimize air exposure.
- If possible, photograph the fish while in water.
The BOTTOM LINE…
How you handle a fish DOES make a difference in whether or not THAT fish lives to fulfill the mission of Catch-n-Release:
Catch and release fishing improves native fish populations by allowing more fish to remain and reproduce in the ecosystem. This practice provides an opportunity for increasing numbers of anglers to enjoy fishing and to successfully catch fish. – Catch and Release Fishing: National Parks Service U.S. Dept. of Interior Web page – https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fishing/catch-and-release-fishing.htm
Catch & Release works ONLY IF you
HANDLE and RELEASE fish CORRECTLY
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