The Ugly Truth: Summer Time Trout Fishing & Catch and Release Mortality Rates

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

Spring has come and gone and Summer is here! Who doesn't want to break out the shorts, sunscreen , fishing rod and get out and enjoy the great weather on some favorite waters and catch some fish! While summer generally tends to be a fair bit slower fishing period on our interior trout waters due to higher water temps, with summer also still comes some great fishing opportunities! Case in point, my personal favorite: dry fly fishing! This is the best time of year to get out, especially in late evenings and throw Adult Caddis imitations to trout cruising the lake and slurping up those travellers skating on the surface, which is an absolute ton of fun if you've never tried it! I won't get too far into detail about Caddis or dry fly fishing as we will save some of that perhaps for a future blog post. What I wanted to write about is Catch and Release fishing during summer!

Catch and release has become very popular amongst anglers over the last couple decades especially amongst the growing fly fishing community. And great! I am a huge advocate of C and R (especially when it comes to wild native fish) and probably 99% of my trout fishing is always C and R (admittedly this is mostly in part due to the fact that I enjoy catching them but just don't particularly enjoying eating them as much as many others do). But I often wonder how many people are aware, that just because the fish appears to be ok and seems to swim off fine that it doesn't necessarily mean it is going to survive? Many catch and release anglers would be shocked to know that according to studies done by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and other articles I have read catch and release mortality rates, even when done "right" are estimated at a staggering 10-40% best to worst scenario depending on various conditions (approximately). The truth of the matter is no matter how well you handle fish, a percentage of what you let back will undoubtedly not survive. If these numbers are accurate and just 4 boats catch 25 fish during a good day of summer fishing that totals 100 fish and all were released, unfortunately, of those four boats anywhere from 10 to a whopping 40 trout are sent to their watery grave! Staggering numbers! And know that, if we consider these statistics, during the hot summer months we are sitting much higher on that spectrum of things. Brutal I know, I am sure most of us all wish every fish we put back will live on to grow into "Walter" one day but it's just an ugly truth we simply can't get away from or should ignore. Many people are also unaware that most fish when they die don't float to the surface, I have heard the horror stories of how the bottoms of some of the lakes can resemble something like a graveyard during a good bomber hatch on some of our busy lakes in July through August. Fact or Fiction? I don't doubt there is much truth to the rumors though I can neither confirm nor deny.

Rainbow Trout are a cold water species and thrive at around 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16c) and can survive in water temps exceeding 75F/23C however, these are approaching lethal highs, and many may not also know, that with high water temps comes less oxygen. This is because as temperature rises dissolved oxygen decreases. Fish become stressed and according to many experts will even stop growing at temps exceeding 68F/20c. It is said that the onset of the stress the trout will undergo begins to set in quite sometime even before the lake temps reaches dangerous levels. This is when trout begin to eat less and minimize their use of energy. This makes for less active, lethargic fish and hence the "summer doldrums" as many call them occur. Many have heard of "Winterkill" but many also were unaware there is also what is called "Summerkill" which is a direct result of lethal water temps and low oxygen, though it doesn't impact the majority our interior lakes to the same extent as our long winters can. I won't get too technical here as I am no biologist and have no need to pretend I am or try and make things sound more complicated than they need to be, I like to keep things plain and simple and as straight to the point in terms everyone can understand as I understand them. The goal of this article is to educate anglers of all skills and backgrounds on the importance of proper fish care when fishing and especially during the hot summer months when trout are most vulnerable and at risk. Surely during this time of year it is without question catch and release mortality rates are at their highest and I can't help but feel sometimes a lot less fish would go to waste if people had better understanding and took just a little more care to ensure the fish they intend to release is going to survive OR choose to retain some fish for either the table or smoker at home.

Here are just a few tips to help ensure optimum survival of the trout you release:

1) Heavier line or Tippet - Light gear and light leaders can make for a longer and more enjoyable fight with the fish but don't play it too long, they are already stressed there is no need to exhaust them to death! Use the power of your rod and a stronger lb test line than you would normally use to get them in as quickly as possible and try to allow for less runs. 8lb fluorocarbon is ideal even for those trophy pennasks.

2) Use your Drag or Palm your Reel - For whatever reason sometimes a certain fish can be more difficult to land, there is no doubt but I see this time and time again, especially with even some of the most seasoned fly anglers. They have tension of their drag set so low, they let the fish run into their backing sometimes multiple times and tire the fish out far beyond necessary. I know I know, but the zinging of a reel sounds so good! It's no wonder they got spooled! Anyone can easily get spooled by even a 3lb fish if they let it, nothing to brag about there.

3) Keep 'em Wet - Keep the fish in the water at all times, If you feel you want or need to take a photo, gently take them out of the water using BARE HANDS ONLY (gloves remove their protective slime and causes infection) using one hand under the belly behind the pectoral fins to support its organs and one FIRM grip on the fish's caudal peduncle or "wrist" (the portion of the tail just above the rear tail/caudal fin), take your fish out of the water for no longer then 5 seconds or so. If you must get a second photo for some reason let it breathe in your net for a little while before bringing it back up out of the water.


4) REVIVE! - Nothing infuriates me more than to see a fish played to exhaustion only for the angler to take it out of the water and hurl it back into the lake like he's tossing a football or dirty garment. Reviving is one of the most overlooked things and keys to a good recovery. The best way to do this is by supporting the fish properly as described above while in the water and let the fish breathe and recuperate and regain some of its lost energy. Gently rock the fish back and forth which allows water and thus oxygen to be pushed through it's gills and don't let it go right away. All the fish knows is it wants to go, it doesn't know you are trying to help it. Be sure it has been revived to the best of your judgement. If they swim away strong in a powerful thrusting splash, this is a very good sign!

5) Water Temps Above 70f/21c Perhaps give them a break? - I know I know, I am gonna get smacked for this one, but if you know that little puddle lake you love so much was 71F last week and it is now been even hotter all week, perhaps let 'em be and go to a bigger deeper or higher elevation lakes where your less likely to be playing "Catch and Decease" vs Catch and Release

(I do plan on releasing a short and to the point C and R demonstration video in the future to add here)

Also, I can't stress a good C and R net, one that has enough room for the fish to relax in and one that wont take the fishes scales or protective slime off or get caught in their gills. The new rubber mesh nets available on the market are excellent to prevent this.

Now for the part many C and R anglers don't want to hear...

Where retention is legal, when in doubt, consider keeping your catch. I hate to say it but if your not into eating or bonking fish and your are almost certain the fish you just caught is done for, played out and going to be belly up, retain it as part of your legal daily quota for either yourself or a friend or neighbor. Who doesn't know someone who enjoys eating trout? Though I suppose it's carcass would provide some nutrients to the lake. Better to be used as sustenance than to be wasted for ones own personal amusement IMHO.

Of course many factors play their part in Catch and Release mortality rates, they will vary depending on the lake, or trout strain etc as there are many variables to consider. All in all, to sum it all up nicely, if your out fishing for trout during summer with higher water temps and are a catch and release fishermen either all or some of the time, please take into consideration everything you have read here and use your better judgement when it comes to fishing and releasing fish and help pass this on to other anglers out there.

Thanks for reading I hope you may have learned something from this or perhaps was a reminder of how fragile trout are, especially during these hot summer months. With that being said, we still encourage everyone to get out and explore and enjoy this amazing fishery, the beautiful weather and great outdoors of BC year round, all while practising proper fish handling and release techniques.

Until Next time, Cheers and Tight Lines!

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