What Percent of Catch and Release Fish Die?

Angler releasing the hooked fish back to the water.

Catch and release is a recreational fishing practice wherein a captured fish is released back into the waters, often after a quick weighing and measuring of the fish has been made. It has been practiced for over a century in the United Kingdom by coarse fishermen to preserve the population of specific fish species in heavily fished seas or lakes. This practice converts many targeted species to partial or complete catch-and-release fish species. 

Many would feel less guilty when they engage in catch and release fishing, thinking that they are helping in managing the population of certain species. But the question still lingers about whether those catch-and-release fish die afterward. 

The sad thing is, we can’t have an exact number of fish that die after being released. But a study done in 2005 maintained that the mortality rate of fish involved in catch and release practice was around 18%, though the figures vary from one species to another. Another study concluded that about 43% of fish died after being released. 

Percentage of Fish that Survive Catch and Release Practice

Corollary to the study of how many fish die after being released is the study on what percentage of fish survive catch and release. Some studies provide a survival rate of 80% to 98%. So, many would assume that about 90% of fish survive. 

They also assume that many fish that die after release might have died due to mishandling, were already in bad health, or were old enough when caught and released. So, the catch and release practice only hastened their death. 

Another reason why fish die after release is due to how the fish got hooked. If the fish, for example, gets caught on its lips, it has a higher chance of survival after release. But if the fish gets hooked on the gill, it has a limited chance of survival afterward. 

If the fish, for example, incurred a large wound, this wound might cause infections that would lead to the fish’s demise. However, injuries on the fish gills or throat may not heal well. Hence, the fish might die if it incurred gills or throat wounds. 

Smaller wounds around the fish lips would heal fast, and if you handle the fish with care and release it fast, it has a better chance of surviving. Besides, the depth from which you have baited the fish will also factor in the survival chance of the fish. If you have baited it out of deep waters, the air bladders of the fish might get damaged beyond repair. 

The Right Catch and Release Procedures for Better Fish Survival

If you want to engage in catch and release, you might as well know how to go about with the practice. It will also help if you know how you can release the fish without causing much damage to the fish. Below are the procedures you can follow when engaging in catch and release practice:

1) Utilize Circle or Barbless Hooks

When engaged in catch and release, it will be best to use circle or barbless hooks. These hooks are easy to untangle and unhook. Thus, you reduce the chance of injuring the fish more and lessen the mortality percentage of fish. Besides, if the hook gets stuck, it will help if you cut the line at the hook’s point and leave it to help the fish survive. 

This idea is based on studies that claim fish suffers less prolonged stress and injuries if you do this practice instead of taking the hook out. If you leave the hook in the fish, the fish will likely expel the hook on its own. 

Using a circle or barbless hook is crucial in catch and release. Its use reduces handling time and injuries while enhancing the survival rate of the fish. 

Besides, if you catch fish using a barbless hook, you can release the fish sans taking the fish out of the water. Moreover, the hook slips out with ease by flicking it with a leader or pliers.

Besides, if you catch fish using a barbless hook, you can release the fish sans taking the fish out of the water. Moreover, the hook slips out with ease by flicking it with a leader or pliers. 

Some anglers refrain from using barbless hooks because many fish will escape the hook. However, you can prevent the fish from escaping if you focus on keeping your line tight while you fight the fish. You can also use Triple Grip style hooks on your lures to keep your catch rate high when using barbless hooks. 

2) Choose Carefully the Bait and Hooks

If you intend to release your catch afterward, you need to select your baits and hooks with care. Of course, barbless and circle hooks are the best for catch and release. These hooks cause minor damage to the fish compared to barb ones. Barbless hooks are also easier to unhook. 

On the other hand, circle hooks intend to catch fish by their lips and not by their guts. You can use nymph, dry fly, Rapala or jerk bait, and inline spinner when it comes to lures. Moreover, you can use soft plastic lures. If you intend to release the fish afterward, you should refrain from hooking the fish deeply.  

3) Releasing the Fish Soon After

Fish are not like mammals. They suffocate when there is too much air. So, it will help keep the fish in the water as much as possible when releasing it. Gently handle the fish with your moist gloves or wet hands. 

If you net it, it will be best to utilize a soft and knotless-fabric release net. When releasing, please don’t take the fish out of the water, nor should you squeeze it or lift it. 

Refrain from high grading if you intend to keep the fish and cook it afterward. High grading is sorting out your fish, separating the smaller fish from bigger fish. If you happen to hook, in the lip, a trophy size fish, just let it go. If you catch smaller fish that bleeds, keep it for your table.

4) Correct Unhooking of the Fish

One important aspect of catch and release is the proper unhooking of fish. Unhooking might be easier with certain fish but difficult with some fish species. If you use barbless hooks, the task further becomes easy. You can back the hook point out instead of grabbing and pulling the hook.

Hook removal must be done fast and carefully to save the fish and avoid injuring yourself. If you would remove the hook using your finger, be careful, for you might also hurt your finger because the fish would squirm and wiggle away from your grasp. 

It will be best likewise to use tools like two sets of pliers. You should use one to keep the mouth of the fish open while using the other to unhook. Furthermore, avoid holding the fish with your bare hands because you might squeeze it without being aware. Put the fish inside a pail when you are unhooking it. 

While you retrieve the fish, avoid unnecessary force to fight it. Bring the fish safely and release it quickly. Avoid letting the fish jump when you retrieve it, for it will only aggravate its wound. You can keep the fish from jumping if you keep downward the pool tip. 

Additionally, it will help not to let your pole go unattended, for it might increase the risk of the fish being hooked for a more extended period. When pulling the hook, if it gets stuck, snap the line and don’t force the hook out. Otherwise, you might tear out the fish throat and gills.  

5) Release the Fish the Right Way

When releasing the fish, it will be best to put it back onto your net from your pail. Then, dip the net back and forth onto the water to allow the fish to get oxygen into its system. Afterward, let go of the fish, allowing it to swim away. 

Some fish might be passive, lethargic, and unwilling to swim away quickly. You can help the fish by holding it under its tail using one hand. Then, gently open its mouth using your other hand. Afterward, prod it to swim forward.

Does Catch and Release Hurt Fish Badly?

Many people have often believed that fish are not susceptible to pain. However, some studies indicate that fish respond differently when feeling pain. Many also thought that the fish’s reaction, like putting up a massive fight when it got hooked, is just an auto-response and not a reaction to pain. 

But recent studies have shown that fish have pain receptor neurons referred to as nociceptors found all over the fish body. We can only surmise how much pain fish feel when they get injured or hooked. 

Yet, the sure thing is that they are susceptible to feeling pain, which is enough to make them cease socializing. They also become slow in moving and eat less. Besides, pained fish usually react protectively to assuage the pain.

Do Fish Heal Their Wounds After Being Hooked?

Fish, like humans, have their natural way of healing their wounds. Nevertheless, the fish might find it hard to heal if the injury is extensive. Besides, there is always the risk of infection with bigger wounds. However, fish have this slimy covering that protects them from bacterial infection. So, if the injury is not deep enough, it will heal quick. 

Besides, minor injuries around the mouth or inside the mouth might heal fast. However, injuries to the throat and gills due to swallowing the hook might have a prolonged healing process. Moreover, throat, stomach, heart, liver, or gill injuries are less likely to heal well. But with muscle tissue injuries, fish usually recover from injuries.


Over the years, many people have been clamoring for a more scientific approach and studies on catch and release practices. They want the catch and release procedures to be more science-based to improve the fish’s chance of survival. Hence, there was research on fish survival and the proper procedures of catch and release fishing which led to the development of technical guidelines for such practice. 

The side-effects of catch and release practices vary from one fish species to another. So, specific fish species might have more negative reactions to catch and release than other fish species. As a conscientious angler, it will be best to learn more about the different fish species and their coping mechanism after release.

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