Catch & Release Basics for Toothy Critters

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When you've fished for Muskies and Pike for as long as Pete Maina has, you learn a good deal
about not only how to catch these toothy critters, but how to properly and safely release them
as well. This is the first in a series of "Release" articles penned by Pete and reprinted
here with the permission of Esox Angler Magazine.

As esox anglers, we all know the importance of catch and release to the future of our sport. Good intentions alone don¹t make for successful releases. If the esox doesn't survive the release, wasted effort and fish flesh is the result. There is no complete substitute for experience. No doubt, the more fish you handle, the more efficient you¹ll be at it. However, even beginners that have a plan can be successful releasers. Sacred as these fish are to some of us, they¹re just fish.

Realistically, it's not entirely necessary that the release be "pretty" as long as it's effective. Release will usually be effective if you prepare for and practice the basics. The preparation part is the most important. Caring enough to prepare is the first step. Frankly, while out on the water, I still see an alarming number of blatantly mishandled releases. And these aren't incidental catches; these are folks who are specifically fishing for pike or muskie, and in many cases appear to be quite adept, mechanically. For the future of our sport, we need to be adept at release too.

Let's start with tools. Proper tools are an absolute necessity. I've handled over 3000 muskies and I'm not certain how many pike, but many. Take away my tools and I can't even hope to do it properly. The list of absolute necessities includes long-nose pliers (the longer the better) and quality hook cutters. Don't even think about chasing esox without these items in the boat, at a minimum. Strongly suggested additional items include a large hookout tool, large landing device, jaw spreaders, split-ring pliers and pre-sharpened replacement hooks. Two of each of the absolutes is advisable, just in case they are unintentionally bathed during the course of the day's angling.   A hookout tool is often real handy for getting into hard-to-reach spots (hooks that are well inside the mouth or even to the gullet). It can be hard to operate a standard pliers in such situations. The right type of large landing device would be strongly suggested to all but a few folks. Beginners definitely need one. There are a handful of folks like my good friend Doug Johnson (who has handled thousands of esox), who prefers to, and is successful in handling all personal releases at boatside without nets or cradles. For most though, a landing device is much safer and much quicker.

We'll get more in depth in future articles on landing devices, but there are three basic types that I'm aware of (and I know that trophy pike anglers in Europe have some too). There are cradle devices (basically two long rods or splints, with mesh between), the standard hoop landing net, and a hybrid of the net and

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