Proper handling is important if you plan to release your fish. Following these techniques will help ensure a fish’s survival, courtesy of NJDEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Don’t play the fish too long. It tires them out and reduces their chance of recovery.
Use barbless hooks.
Never land a fish in a net if you plan to release it.
Do your best NOT to bring the fish out of the water. You should go to the fish instead of bringing the fish to you.
Do not suspend large fish by the line, lower jaw or gills as this places enormous strain on the throat latch and will probably cause fatal injuries.
If you must remove a fish from the water, wet your hands first and gently, but firmly, grasp the fish (you want to avoid destroying the slimy coating which helps protect the fish). Bring it only as far out of the water as is necessary to remove the hook.
Use needle-nose pliers or a de-hooking device (available at most bait and tackle stores) to remove the hook.
If the fish has swallowed the hook, cut the leader as close to the hook as possible and release the fish. The hook will usually quickly dissolve and not cause harm (stainless steel hooks are the exception).
Never throw the fish back in the water. Hold the fish gently and face it into the current or slowly swim it back and forth to get water moving through its gills. When the fish seems revived, release it.