When we talk of practicing effective release for muskie and northern pike, we commonly hear of the importance of having the right tools – and this is absolutely essential. If you don’t have the long-nose pliers, quality hook cutters, spreaders, split-ring pliers and spare hooks – you shouldn’t go. Additionally though, while the initial response may be giggles from some – there is never enough stress on the simple fact that the head of the fish is the part that breathes.
Sounds silly, but if many who would react with giggles initially – would consider their own practices during the fight and throughout the release process, it’s likely that honest reflection offers that they could do much better. Some water releases occur – with rod held high and pressure on the fish – while searching for tools (fish’s head out) and then head held out for removing or cutting hooks. Often anglers are cautious (rightfully so) of the teeth and swinging hooks – and the unhooking or cutting actually takes longer than it would have – had the fish been netted (head is out of the water the whole time) … from there fish are lifted for photos.
Quality nets with the proper treated mesh like Frabill’s Big Kahuna and Kwik Kradle act like a large release pen over the side of the boat, that subdue the fish somewhat – to make the release safer and quicker … yet, many anglers cease hurrying through the process once the fish is in the net. Often, they celebrate a bit and look for tools at a lackadaisical pace, feeling that since the fish is still in the water, there is no rush. Essentially, that’s true, IF the fish’s head is in the water too, but even then it’s best to get the lure out asap – so the fish can breath more normally. Often too though, the fish’s head is pinned out of the water by the hooks on the lure stuck in the mesh on the side of the net … while 85 % of the fish is in the water, the business end isn’t. The head breathes—from mouth through gills. If the fish’s head is out of the water, there should be a rush until the lure is free, hooks are all out and the fish is horizontal with head in the water. After that, the pace can slow a bit (with the exception of large crashing waves that will continue to stress the fish). Remember that the fish has fought hard and stressed itself. Holding its head out of water would be similar to your head being held under water following a 500 yard sprint.