Don’t Grip that Lip — Wilderness North

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Don’t Grip that Lip

Picture this. You’re on an offshore boat 50 miles into the ocean off the right coast of Costa Rica. 6 lines reach out behind the boat, each line, your engagement to a hook and a bait.  Suddenly, a reel zings and you rush forward to throw it into freespool.  A forever count to 8 seconds and you push the drag lever up to strike.  Your rod bends over and a dance of aquatic explosion erupts 500 feet behind the boat.  A pacific sailfish leaps, twists and turns trying to expel the hook.  After a short battle, the fish comes boat-side flashing radiant greens, blues, golds and blacks.  This fish, is a thing of beauty! Now you have a choice. How to take the photo? Either leave the fish in the water, where its weight is equally supported, or pull it out onto the deck to get the shot. One scenario, the fish doesn’t feel any excess stress, the other, may result in a broken back, detached retinas, or a broken jaw to say the least.

Same thing happens in Ontario’s fresh water lakes and rivers. Fish are caught, photographed and released. The method in which you do so, could have long lasting effects on our fishy friends. There is one trend, which is occurring that we are trying to limit as a conservation minded lodge. That is the practice of using jaw grips to lift fish.

Jaw grips are devices designed to keep hands and fingers out of the way of toothy critters. They are meant for safety of the angler, but don’t keep the safety of the fish in mind.  Fish species such as northern pike and walleye have teeth and spines, which are capable of shredding digits, often without notice of the angler – that’s how sharp they can be. Jaw grips help reduce the incidences of injury to anglers, however, have the ability to do severe damage to fish and we recommend leaving them at home.

What are some alternatives to jaw grips that reduce the amount of stress on fish?  Great question! Knowing how to properly handle a fish is key in keeping them safe. It’s always good to get comfortable handling smaller fish so you’re familiar with the practice when a giant comes boatside.

On the equipment side, you’ll be looking for tools that support weight, (many of these fish have never felt gravity before) and maintain protective slime on the fish.  Consider big “aquarium” style nets that allow big fish to remain extended horizontally or a cradle, which will support the weight of a big fish uniformly.  These nets should be made of a non-absorptive material or should be rubberized to protect the integrity of the protective fish slime.

record pike ontario

Gloves – consider a good mesh fishing glove to grip and grin with fish.  Stay away from cotton gloves and look for one made from synthetic material.

←Love the glove!

The other way you can ensure a fish’s safety post catch is to take a photo of it in the water, or simply lift horizontally, fully supporting the fish’s weight and get a quick shot. Please never hang a fish vertically.

Jaw grips are considered to be a damaging tool to fish of all sizes and realizing there are many other options in fish handling, we really should reconsider our personal practices on the water.  There are many alternatives to jaw grips and realizing nets or cradles are in each boat that leaves the dock, there really isn’t a place for them in our tackle systems.

Please leave the jaw grips at home!

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