Mullet Fishing: Catch & Release




It's important to assert that catch and release is, and should be, so much more than just dropping the unhappy fish back into the sea from the top of a high harbour wall...

Thankfully, 'C&R' is becoming far more widely accepted and actively promoted within our sport, plus there's a very welcome corresponding increase in focus upon fish welfare. This is particularly true amongst mullet specialists, who, for the most part, seem to place a very high value upon ensuring the wellbeing of their captures. I recently undertook a brief review of current thinking on this important subject, to remind myself of measures that I might be neglecting, and I hope that this information will be helpful, providing plenty of food for thought.

The following is an augmented version of information gathered primarily from NI Direct government services, and the FishAngler blog website; also included is a link to the Angling Trust's "16 Top Tips" - see the end of the article. Here are some key bullet points, with the inevitable substantial cross-over into wider fish welfare issues - quite a lot to consider, admittedly, but very worthwhile.


  • always use small single hooks

    - consider using barbless hooks, or failing that, microbarb (barbed hooks can be made barbless by pinching the barb with pliers)

    - don't use treble~ or double hooks; a snap-off using these could, in one worst-case scenario, leave a fish unable to open its mouth

  • use 'fish-safe' non-fixed rigs, whenever possible

    - design rigs that will leave a fish trailing the absolute minimum amount of tackle, in the case of a snag or other snap-off

    - more to follow on this point, but review some freshwater setups, maybe including some carp rigs? - click here for examples

  • use an appropriately-strong rod and line to bring the fish quickly under control

    - think about the strength of the current, potential snags and the likely size of the largest fish expected, when choosing the right tackle to use

  • before actually fishing, think about how and where the fish can be landed safely, without being damaged or otherwise harmed

  • once hooked, bring the fish to the bank as quickly as is reasonable - this will reduce stress and exhaustion, and will help to ensure that the fish is able to recover quickly

  • use a landing net or drop net

    - this avoids having to grip the fish tightly, or any other form of mishandling, when removing it from the water

    - don't lift the fish vertically on the line, unless it is very small

    - nets with a small mesh seem to inflict less injury; fewer scales tend to be displaced, and fins remain undamaged

    - rubberised nets are said to be less destructive to fish slime and (fish) scales

  • avoid dragging the fish, especially if beaching it, or when landing it on a steep bank, even when the fish is already in the net

  • when lifting and carrying a fish in the net, hold the sides of the mesh to prevent the fish from rolling; this will further reduce the amount of damage incurred, particularly to its fins

  • keep the fish in the water whenever possible, as keeping it out in the air for a long time will mean it might not survive, even after being released with apparent success

  • keep handling time to a minimum

    - make sure your hands are wet before handling the fish

    - avoid squeezing and gripping the fish too tightly, although, most importantly, avoid dropping it

    - hold the fish horizontally, preferably in the correct orientation

    - avoid putting any fingers or other objects under the gill plates

    - kneel or keep low to the ground whenever possible, in case the fish is accidentally dropped

  • avoid using lip grippers, as these are likely to damage the mouth

  • rest the fish upon a non-abrasive wet surface, if necessary

    - a wet landing net, patches of weed, damp bankside grass or a wetted unhooking mat may be the best options available

    - avoid coarse gravel or concrete surfaces, where possible, especially if dry and / or hot

  • use a disgorger or forceps to remove inaccessible hooks

    - if hooks are too deep and their removal will lead to damage or a significantly delayed release, cut the line as near to the hook as possible

  • check for other (lost) hooks present, and remove these, if possible

  • once unhooked, when carrying the fish, carefully support the body, using two hands

  • keep the fish cool, and also damp, by covering it gently with a wet cloth, especially on hot sunny days

  • carefully cover its eyes with the cloth; this usually has a calming effect, inducing the fish to remain still on the bank

  • when weighing the fish, never do so by inserting the hook of the weighing scales under the gill cover, or through the lip

    - use a wetted soft-mesh weighing sling, preferably, or maybe the landing net head, but carefully, avoiding the fish rolling in the net

  • when releasing, gently place the fish back into the water; don't throw or drop it to achieve the release

    - on high banks and walls, use a landing net or drop net to lower the fish; keep it in the net, preferably upright, until it recovers

  • support the fish in the water; in a gentle current is best, with the fish facing upstream

    - gently hold it in the correct upright orientation, especially if the fish is unable to do so for itself

    - retain the fish in a half-submerged open (not folded) landing net while it recovers, if necessary

  • be patient, as the fish can take several minutes to recover

    - wait until the fish has recovered sufficiently to be able swim away normally, all by itself

    - if the fish isn't recovering as it should, try 'walking' it, submerged, keeping its head pointing in the direction of travel, preferably upstream - this may help to achieve a flow of water through its gills

  • high water temperatures (over 21 degrees Celsius) can greatly reduce survival rates; take extra care when releasing when there's a lack of flow and water temperatures are high (typical summer conditions). Hot weather can often significantly deplete oxygen levels in the water, making it harder for the fish to recover from its capture



    A couple of points of elaboration:

    Fish are covered in a layer of slime, which helps to protect them. This slime remains in place whilst in the water, but when a fish comes into contact with a dry surface, such as a boat deck, our hands, or a river bank, its slime is compromised and potentially, so is its health. Try to handle the fish as little as possible, particularly avoiding dry and / or hot surfaces. If you need to use your hands, wet them first; the same applies when placing a fish on the surface of a pontoon, wall, deck or riverbank, in order to help to preserve the slime on your catch.

    The internal organs of a fish are oriented inside the abdomen in a manner that is consistent with its usual horizontal body position, so it is unnatural for the fish to be held vertically, either by the jaw, behind the head or by the tail. Doing so causes all of its organs to shift towards one part of the body. When the fish is placed back in its normal orientation, it can take some time to regain proper alignment of its organs, which means that it may then require more time to recover properly.



    So, once you've remembered all of that lot, all you need to do now is to actually catch one of the tricky blighters... very best of luck with that...



NI Direct Guidelines

FishAngler Blog

Angling Trust: "16 Top Catch & Release Tips"




Last updated 22.05.21