Published Jan 9. 2010 - 14 years ago
Updated or edited Sep 29. 2021

10 rules for C&R

The debate over catch and release (C&R) can get so heated sometimes that you forget what fishing is all about: having a good time by the water, enjoying nature – and catching a fish now and then.

Slip out the hook - Small, barbless hooks can simply be slipped out like this, letting the fish be untouched and simply dropping it back into the water.
Gently now - If you want a picture of a fish about to be released, lift it out of the water and support it as here. Keep it out as short as possible and let it back into the water immediately after a few shots.
Reviving - Large fish in warm water like this summer pike may need some support in the water before they are fresh enough to swim away.
Henning Eskol - Martin Joergensen - Kasper Muhlbach

The debate over catch and release (C&R) can get so heated sometimes that you forget what fishing is all about: having a good time by the water, enjoying nature – and catching a fish now and then.
What you do with that fish you occasionally catch depends on a number of factors. It's not just black or white: fish should always be released and never killed or the opposite: catching fish and releasing them is cruel and all fish caught should be killed.
I favor none of these extreme viewpoints, but choose to look at with little more consideration of the situation. The world is not as simple as some fundamentalists seem to want us to believe.

Sometimes I'm an avid C&R man.

I could generally never get myself to kill a Danish brown trout from a local stream. These streams are often submitted to a lot of fishing pressure and the fish grow slowly in a limited environment. Killing a brownie from a Danish stream would most likely remove a fish that will not be replaced right away. Growth rates are slow and big fish are old fish and few and far apart.

On the other hand I'd happily kill a sea run brown in Danish waters. They are plenty, grow fast, have all the space they need and a new fish will replace one taken in a short time. The impact we as anglers can make on the population is probably very limited.

Here are my 10 rules of thumb
for catching, killing or releasing fish.


Prefer single hooks and one hook only. Trebles are potential trouble if you ask me. Multiple hooks are for snaggers.


Fish barbless if you're fishing C&R. Pinch the barb on barbed hooks. Barbless hooks hook well and holds fine, but unhooks indefinitely much easier.


Gear up for what you are catching. Match rod weight, reel size, tippet strength and hook to the size and strength of your quarry. Fishing too light prolongs fighting times and leaves broken off fish with hooks in them.


Fight and land fish as quickly as you can, within a few minutes if possible. A fresh fish manages much better after release.


Unhook C&R fish in the water if possible. Simply grab the hook and slip it out.


Make optional photo, weigh and measure sessions as short as possible and handle fish as little and as careful as possible keeping them on wet weed, damp grass, in the net bag or on a similar surface.


Kill fish you want to keep as soon as you have them in hand. Unhook and take pictures later.


Avoid beaching fish you don't want to keep and keep fish off gravel and dirt. Use a knotless landing net if you are not comfortable using your hands.


Make sure released fish swim readily and vigorously before letting them go. Hold tired fish upright in the water facing any current until they flap their tail and swim – even in uncomfortably cold water.


Use common sense, empathy and consideration when fishing, catching, killing or releasing – but ALWAYS follow local laws and rules.

But – and there is a but – I will very rarely take a colored fish in the same water. A colored fish is on the way to spawn. That fish should be left to continue its journey and be able secure future generations – for the fish's sake and for mine. And of course I let all protected fish go: small ones and fish on their way to and from spawning in the spawning season.

I have very little respect for people who kill spawning fish – in the ocean or in the stream – in the closed season or when it's fully legal, which it sometimes is. Unfortunately it's quite common to harvest spawning salmon and sea trout in the streams even though it's obvious that the only reason the fish come there is to breed.
I know I'm fighting an ancient tradition, especially here in Scandinavia, and sure I could be enticed to take a good condition and bright salmon or sea trout for the pot if I caught one in a productive stream or river. But many rivers around the world are suffering from poor salmonid migration, and some streams maybe only see a hundred breeding fish in a season, so taking just a few could potentially have a significant effect on the population.

So I have a kind of pragmatic approach to C&R.

Sometimes I kill, oftentimes I don't.
Sometimes the thought of killing fish makes me cringe, oftentimes it's a natural part of the game.
Sometimes taking fish will have a significant influence on the population, oftentimes it won't.

My advice is to use common sense when you fish. Feel free to kill fish whenever there's an abundance of them and you want to eat them. On the other hand when there's a limited number of fish, when they grow slowly or when there's a strong local culture against killing fish.

In some places C&R is looked upon as unnatural and cruel. I've seen some heated debates in the media and on the web over the years, and I particularly remember a picture of a Norwegian river boat filled with dead salmon caught on good day and all killed, which stirred quite a commotion back when in the early age of the net.
In some regions or countries you are simply not allowed to release fish, which are within the legal limits. Some areas in Germany have this rule and in Switzerland a law has been passed, which completely disallows C&R. The law is a general animal protection law, but seems to mention fishing more or less directly.

I think it's a total misunderstanding to have such rules, and shows that the general perception of animal protection and conservation is completely askew. We as anglers ought to behave in such a way that such laws weren't necessary at all. Don't kill everything, handle fish with care (they ARE live animals) and release where it makes sense.


Swift and painless

The PETA attitude

While we as anglers may see catch and release as the politically correct way of doing things, some people consider C&R is so much a no-no that they “chain themselves to trees” to fight it.

I just spent some time on PETA's homepage reading about their opinion on angling, and honestly... if it wasn't so seriously meant and they were so scaringly influential, I'd be laughing.
But I'm not.
People like PETA have no clue to what they are talking about if you ask me. They quote whoever says what they want to hear as well as make up their own weird theories about things.

They have a whole anti-fishing site where fish are constantly referred to as “Sea kittens”. What?! Little charming furballs with big charming, brown eyes and winning personalities? Come on now!

To quote:
“Fish often swallow hooks, and anglers try to retrieve the hook by shoving their fingers or pliers down the fish's throat, ripping out not just the hook but some of the fish's throat and guts as well. When fish are handled, the protective coating on their bodies is disturbed. These and other injuries make fish easy targets for predators once they are returned to the water.”

“...shove their fingers down the fish's throat”?
"...ripping out not just the hook but some of the fish's throat and guts"?
“...protective coating on their bodies is disturbed”?

Which planet were these people born on? Ripping out the guts?

Sure some fish get hurt when they are hooked.
Sure some will suffer, even die, after having been released.
But probably not because some angler had a hand down its throat and ripped out its guts!

Anglers generally treat fish as well as they can, try not to hurt them and handle them very carefully. If the fish is hurt it's killed if that is legal.
No one deliberately wants to hurt fish.

PETA ends its rally against angling with the words:
“Please encourage anglers to ditch their poles and try other activities, such as hiking, camping, and canoeing, instead.” Yeah, right and ask people who like to play cards to play football and people who like ballet to watch action movies in stead!
You do not ask as a person to ditch a life long passion, which he or she has found absolutely fine, because you have some idea about how fish feel and think.

I for one am not ditching my “poles” and I'm not going vegan either!

The freezer room - When a lodge has a room like this for caught fish, you will not get far preaching C&R.
Slaughterhouse - Some places have a long tradition for taking fish. This is from Iceland, where most anglers consider fishing a hunt for fish to eat. A lot of the salmon populations can easily withstand the harvesting.
Martin Joergensen
Killing me softly - Kill if you want to, but stop when you have enough.
Killing me softly
From the web


Martin Joergensen's picture

szn2, I read scie...


I read scientific papers and books too, and sure fish have nerves and feel that the hook stings them - but the term pain is something that we as humans connect with extreme discomfort and even trauma and not least the fact that we know that we are hurting, and there doesn't seem to be much evidence that fish have the same experience from the hooking or handling. Sure they are better off without! Few anglers would doubt that, but it's a calculated risk. If we want to catch the fish, we will bring some discomfort and stress on them.

This study is pretty recent and concludes that fish simply cannot feel conscious pain the way that humans - or even mammals - can. They don't have the physiology and nervous system to do so.

My primary argument regarding the PETA statements had nothing to do with these facts (or opinions), but was a protest against the shrill rhetoric and downright insane allegations from PETA. I'm very open to discussing animal welfare and ethical treatment of animals and fish - those that will end up in my pan and those that I will release - but I will not discuss it with people who obviously live in a different world than mine (and most other people for that matter) and use arguments which are simply wrong and ridiculously exaggerated at the same time.


Im sorry to inform y...

Im sorry to inform you and your readers that what was on the PETA article is mostly correct. It sounds to me like you are the one quoting misinformation that you just want to hear.
Fish DO actually feel pain, and yes, they often DO get injured when caught and released(I wish it weren't true also but wishing doesn't make it so). I KNOW that this is true because I have read actual scientific studies that were written by scientists who studied fish who were caught and released. I suggest that you and your readers do the same.

Way to go I feel the...

Way to go I feel the same way, I would never ditch my poles for anything its my passion. I also read that peta article because I am doing a research project for school about whether sport fishing is cruel. When I read the article they wrote I laughed because its so full of crap. I know true anglers would never rip out a fishes guts, thats why you cut the line!

Great website! I com...

Great website! I come from a long line of river and ocean fishermen/women. However, my grandparents on both sides passed away before teaching me anything about it. I tried lake fishing once in my 20's (caught a large mouth bass) and found it to be very upsetting because I was totally unprepared emotionally and I didn't effectively put the fish out of its misery. I was a bad hunter that day and totally uninformed! So fast forward 20'something years, and here I am with a 5 year old son who asks me every week to take him fishing. What to do!

I personally don't believe in hunting/fishing for sport and entertainment. That said, I'm not a vegetarian and I'm ok with killing to eat as long as suffering is avoided. I'm also totally open to allowing my son the chance to make up his own mind about fishing. So I was grateful to find your website and read through your philosophies. I've printed your 10 Rules for Catching, Killing and Releasing and will help him understand his options. I appreciate the gray-zone thinking you've done here, allowing space for everyone to figure out where they stand. Kudos to you!

Dear Martin, Rega...

Dear Martin,

Regardless of some idiot’s comments, I also do enjoy your website and your view on C&R

As JanW points out: it doesn't pay to argue with a fanatic. Especially this one, as he seems to be blind to the idiocy of his own arguments. For if his parent indeed taught him not to harm the soil, the birds, the bees, the sky, or the trees, I'm confused as to why he doesn't turn off his computer to chose a self-sustaining life (preferably) far away from the luxuries of western society and the large ecological impact that they have.
I hope your kids pay more attention to you, than he did to his parents ;)

Cheers, Harry doesn't reall... doesn't really pay to argue with a fanatic.


I totally agree and I am really concerned and annoyed to read such rude statements about Martin and his family, so I won't argue, but only write some thoughts of a sick groupie:

- it is not worth to pay attention to fanatics and their often simple or at least one track minded statements. Getting attention is often the only reason for them to give a statement. What else could be the reason for them to be on a website together with sick groupies?


Thanks for your article and for running your gorgeous GFF website in the way you do it.



Kalby64's picture

Yeah Mark, be it rel...

Yeah Mark, be it religion, politics, ethnics, or what ever the cause of the day, it doesn't really pay to argue with a fanatic. And I'm sure you will answer again with vulgar language, and attack my family, or my way of life, and thats my point.

Martin, It's a good...

It's a good thing your kids have brains a little bigger than a fish.
Maybe they will recognize the error in your ways and not follow in your footsteps.
Then dozens,hundreds, thousands of fish will be spared the torture you so eagerly inflict.
Can't Stand the Heat, Get out of the Kitchen!
p.s. Why haven't any of your sick groupies jumped in to take your side?
p.p.s I rest my case

Martin Joergensen's picture

Mark, Very well a...


Very well articulated and mature my friend! Keep that up and you will get far in life.
I rest my case. This conversation ends here for my part.


Martin, What went r...

What went right in my life.
My parents taught me not to harm the soil,the birds, the bees, the sky, or the trees.
If you need to eat, eat.
But eventually you will be eaten too.
Never play with your food.
Never torment your fellow earthlings.
Obviously, your parents did not get it.
And you sure don't.
Don't you & your cowardly groupies tell me about the danger of being "BADLY CUT" by a Pike!
Get in the water with a Great White and a knife.
Kill it, eat it with your own teeth, then tell me what you know about C&R!
What a bunch of Narcissistic,egomaniac, whimps!
C&R what a "CROCK- O- SHIT"
You and your whole groupe are pathetic.
You knowingly and intentionally cause innocent fish to suffer.
Justify that, you F...ING, pissant brained torturer of "Earth's Creatures"

Your Committed Adversary,

Martin Joergensen's picture

Mark, I have no i...


I have no idea what went wrong in your life or your upbringing, but I don't remember ever having had such a rude and obnoxious comment on the site - and it's been out there for close to 20 years after all.

While I respect your opinion - in spite of your total lack of respect for mine - I have NO respect at all for the way you present it.
You are entitled to your standpoint, and I to mine, and you can defend yours with sensible arguments if you want, but not with some far fetched (and offensive) comparison between my kids and fish. You might compare your children to fish spawned in a cesspool, but I can tell you that mine have bigger brains than fish, more complex reaction patterns than fish and a totally different physiology with regards to pain, fear and a lot of other things.
Comparing hooking a fish to hooking a person is simply stupid.
Having studied biology I happen to know a bit about what I'm talking about, and I'm not the only one. I can recommend reading books like "Does fish feel pain?" by Victoria Braithwaite and "What Trout Want: The Educated Trout and Other Myths" by Bob Wyatt, which shed some light on fish physiology and "psychology".

And sure some of the fish I release have a hole in the lip (no, it's not "ripped"), but fear and loathing of humans? Come on now. Really? Fear, yes, but they are born with fear. Loathing humans? I don't think so.

PS: Fuck you, you moron! But kind regards to your family. They have no part in this.

PPS: At first I had no intentions of publishing your comment - not due to the personal offenses or your opinion - but because of the unnecessary rudeness. But you know what? I decided to do so, and here it is along with my reply.

Regards from a guy who both kills and eats fish


Sure Martin, You are...

Sure Martin, You are a good guy. A manly man. But a sensitive man, With a true appreciation for Nature and it's gifts
Tell me where your kids live.
I'll come there and throw out an Ebelskiver with a pinched hook and drag them in as quickly as possible and handle them gently after I pull the "PINCHED HOOK" from their unfeeling lips.
Then I will gladly throw them back into the sesspool where you spawned them.
You are so fucking pathetic I can't believe I'm wasting my time on you but you pissed me off with your 10 fucking excusses.
Mark Patton 209-404-8733
p.s. only catch the fucking fish to feed your fucked up starving family
P.P.S. I doubt you have the fish guts to responde to this comment, "BUT IF YOU DO" you will not be throwing ME back with a ripped lip, fear and loathing of humans, a slim chance of survival and a"have a nice day fishy!"

All of you seem to b...

All of you seem to be missing the crux of this problem. There is no question whether C&R has proven itself as a successful conservation measure. No debate. But the ethics are a problem. When we go to the river with the intent of releasing whatever we catch, the purpose of our hunt has been compromised. The fish are put at risk, they fight for their lives, purely for our entertainment. That is abusive, and mildly sadistic, as has been observed by many thoughtful anglers in recent years.

Fishing is hunting. We hunt and fish because we are hard-wired for it. It's who we are. As such, one of our jobs in society is to bring meat back to the village. If our hunt puts animals' lives at risk--which even C&R does-- it has to mean more than just sport. In my opinion, when the highest value for hunting is the sport of it, it has lost its foundation, and its relevance in a humane society.

C&R is a proven management tool, but a questionable ethic. Managers in today's fisheries rely on C&R to sustain wild fish populations. But each angler still has to sort through the ethics on his or her own. It pains me to hear anglers denying their impacts, denying the conflict inherent in sport fishing, and putting down people who question our motivations. We sound like a bunch of spoiled children, and we expose our fears. Deep down we anglers fear that non-anglers will finally see what we are up to, hauling around endangered species by their lips for a little adrenaline rush. And they'll put a stop to it. But rather than hiding behind fear and avarice, we anglers could wake up and be honest about the abusive nature of sport fishing. Feeding people is the reason we put animals lives and well being at risk in the first place. When a hunter gets tired of killing, he can take pictures. He puts himself in harms way for the mock hunt, but not the animal. And he sure as hell doesn't take the animal down in a head lock, get the grin-and-grab, then pat it on its ass and shew it away. What we do with fish should be renamed "fish wrestling."

I practice fishing, ...

I practice fishing, for fun, will occasionally keep bass to eat; then I fish bass tournaments with a local bass club. Of course, we catch and release during tournaments, and we get penalized when weighing in a dead fish. So, we take great lengths to keep the fish healthy in a "live well" on the boat. Regretfully, sometimes fish are gut-hooked, especially when fishing with plastics, because fish can try to swallow the artificial bait. When that happens, we don't pull on the hook at all and cut the line. My fishing buddies tell me that a bass will "digest" a hook eventually ( I guess it rusts) and they absorb it. I am skeptical of that. I think that a gut hooked fish will have enormous difficulty catching prey food and swallowing it, and therefore will probably eventually die. So, I sometimes wonder about the effect of endless weekend tournaments at popular lakes, during the peak fishing seasons. Fish hooked in the mouth, kept alive in the live well and gently released will recover quite well. Those that are gut hooked, or those that are kept several hours in live well water that is poorly oxygenated, will probably not make it.
All in moderation. All in moderation. I believe that is the key. Bass club teams are allowed to weigh in only 5 fish total. We follow lake rules of course, and never use live bait, only lures. For a club to hold a tournament at a lake, they also go through the permit process with the corp of engineers or other wildlife enforcement. Even then, I would never want my weekend tournaments to take away from a family that fishes for the food to take home for a nice meal.
My advice to the recreational angler, who wants to catch fish and occasionally take them home, is to fish on the weekdays, preferably in the middle of the week. That way, you are avoiding the heavy fishing pressure on the weekends.

I fish almost every ...

I fish almost every day , my rule of thumb is i start counting If i hit 15 i just snap its neck and take it home and cook it . i bend the barbs over on all my hooks and never use bait only lures , with practice and light tackle you can always hook them in a way that doesnt even draw blood , most of the fish i keep are stocked trout which i had a DEP officer explain that they most likely would die over the summer when the water gets low so enjoy a delicious source of inexpensive protein

Thank you so much fo...

Thank you so much for posting this article. I am new to fishing, and I have been very curious about the ethical obligations which I have to the fish. Your article has helped me to see that even though casualties may accidently occur (alternatively, I catch an old fish which just happens to naturally die on the line), through due diligence I can fish in a way which minimizes potential harm to the fish and which keeps the fish as safe as possible. Thank you so much for your insightful comments - from a new fisherman, much appreciated.

PETA members seem to...

PETA members seem to be more dedicated to their cause than Anglers or Hunters. Unfortuanately, sportsmen in my community are not willing to give up ANY time from fishing or hunting to promote the sport. Some PETA members will dedictae their life to their cause... by getting a degree in fish & wildlife mamangement and then get employed by the "Game Department" do their "anti" work from within.

I think, PETA means...People Eat Tasty Animals.

A very nice article....

A very nice article. A would agree with almost every word.
I think that a big problem is that the term "Catch and release" or "C&R fishing" and "C&R" phillosopy" is CONTAMINATED. It has meanings that an angler that is really concerned (with the ethics of dealing with live animals on one hand and conservation of species on the other hand) doesn't really want to imply. A concerned angler has nothing to do with all the commercialization and consumerism (in angling) that the term "catch and release" has become inseparably connected to in last 30 or so years. I simply don´t use this term anymore and I think that it's better that way.
So I release a lot, sometimes almost all the fish I catch but I never "catch and release" them.
(It is not just a word game...)

diffenately a hottly...

diffenately a hottly debated topic even amoung those who fish

as with everything moderation
except fly tying of course

I wonder what PETA's...

I wonder what PETA's point of view is on "serious invasive fish species"

If I fish in a system where there are invasive fish species, which is detrimental to the ecosystem, I kill those fish.
I return the dead fish to the system, to be part of the food chain again.
I am sure that the smaller indigenous species that feed on the dead fish is only too gratefull of the freebie.

Korrie Broos

Martin Joergensen's picture

Paul, Thanks! You...


Thanks! You and I have fished together and we both keep and release fish. I sometimes wonder why there has to be such debate about the subject. I have rarely (if ever) found myself in situations where I didn't know whether to take or release a fish. Common sense seems to be a very good guideline, and my own very firm rule is: when in doubt, simply release the fish! Only keep fish when you are 100% sure that it's OK.


Excellent article Ma...

Excellent article Martin, Thanks for shedding a little light on this unclear and sensitive subject.

Martin, i fully shar...

Martin, i fully share your atitude and like your "kind of pragmatic way". i do absolutely the same way in my life.

Live and let live....

The subject of hunting whether it be fishing or shooting is indeed a very complex one. I notice that the people
who are antis such as the PETA folks are continuously and some would say fanatically trying to convert and even tell lies in the process of their unremitting relentless quest in degrading the life of people who eat meat and especially those who would hunt their own meat as a food. These people are not worth listening to and should be totally ignored because they are disrespectfully saying that ones parents are to blame for a hunter's killer instinct. Nothing could be further from the truth and I say this from experience.
The fact that a human with a hunting instinct is a natural ocurence will not be recognized by the antis ever because if they do not agree with what people are doing they will try to stop people from doing it and I might add with vigor. Since time began there were hunters and perish the thought there were those who sat back and let the hunters bring home the food and of course there are many of those that sat back who survived who are now telling all and sundry what is right or wrong. Have all those with a killer instinct noticed it is always those who are anti try to convert the hunters never the other way round?
Incidentally all brown trout can live due to them tasting so bad but sea trout are another matter and they are good for you.

The hunting/killing instinct...

It is futile arguing with the insane people who propagate hate as regards their venomous tirade on
people who have the hunting/killer instinct. These individuals have totally lost the hunter gatherer
instinct and cannot possible understand and evaluate those who do have the killer instinct. Those who
have lost the instinct compared to those who do still have that killer instinct who not survive long
I wager if they were put in a situation of keeping themselves alive in the wild where there are no corner shops or supermarkets etc. but they would be the first to cadge food from those who would be able to get the meat.
The other strong instinct the hunters have is a feeling of self preservation which seems to be very much lacking in the anti brigade. Although the antis don't realize it,it could be said that it may be quite dangerous for that anti group to continuously insult the hunters and try vociferously to rubbish them by persuading them to take up knitting or the like.

catch and release spreads disease...

catch and release is painful, damaging and can spread fish kill via bacteria.
now, either fish to get the food or just don't fish at all.

Martin Joergensen's picture

A discussion that never ends...


I certainly respect you view, and I fully agree that setting a hook in a fish must be painful for the fish - although not in any way comparable to our concept of "painful". But you are still right: if you do not want to inflict that kind of pain or discomfort on the fish, don't fish, period.

And I also agree that damaging the fish will indeed increase the risk of infection for the single fish. Any wound will do that weather it's inflicted by a hook, a landing net, human hands, a predator, contact with a rock during spawning or whatnot. But I cannot understand how this can "spread fish kill" unless you mean something else than most people when you say fish kill.

The term is usually used for fish dying off in huge numbers, typically due to some environmental problem like pollution or lack of oxygen and is usually not connected with wounds or bacteria (unless of course the pollution is bacteria, which it very rarely is).

So I fail to see the connection there.

And it probably won't come as a surprise to you that I don find it OK to "either fish to get the food or just don't fish at all". I fish for food and keep fish for the pot, but once I have what I want, I don't stop fishing. I take the liberty of keeping on and releasing the fish I might catch after having taken what I want. It's my choice, and as long as it's legal and even commonplace, I'll most likely keep on doing it.



Log in or register to pre-fill name on comments, add videos, user pictures and more.
Read more about why you should register.

Since you got this far …

The GFF money box

… I have a small favor to ask.

Long story short

Support the Global FlyFisher through several different channels, including PayPal.

Long story longer

The Global FlyFisher has been online since the mid-90's and has been free to access for everybody since day one – and will stay free for as long as I run it.
But that doesn't mean that it's free to run.
It costs money to drive a large site like this.

See more details about what you can do to help in this blog post.