In a way, this discussion may be somewhat off-topic for a release column. At least I thought so at first and pondered it a little. But in reality it isn¹t at all. My concern was that the act of landing a fish alone technically doesn¹t stick strictly to the question of proper tactics to ensure ultimate survivability. For a variety of reasons, esox anglers should avoid fishing alone. These include the fun of companionship, the ability to take some good, quick photos, safety concerns and, most pertinent here, successful releases. The bottom line is, for the good of the fish, at least two folks should be present. In many cases, one person alone simply can't release fish as efficiently as they can with help.
Still, the fact is a lot of people do fish alone, either due to lack of a partner, or because they simply enjoy the solitude. In this column, I'm going to discuss landing and release by the solitary esox angler. Many people who fish alone have asked me what methods are best for a solo release. Many have expressed the problems they've encountered, not only landing fish (trophies that got away), but getting a landed fish released in a timely manner.
The problems associated with solo releases are fairly obvious. With no help, it's tougher to get the fish in a landing device. Then it has to be controlled, while getting to release tools, measured (maybe), possibly photographed, and very quickly released. All has to be done as fast as possible.
In the first issue of Esox Angler, I discussed the basics of C & R, which included the question of water release versus the use of landing devices. The call on this issue, is usually made considering a couple factors, the first being the angler's perceived need to land the fish. A fish can usually be put in a landing device quicker than they can be handled in-water at boatside. Many marginally hooked fish have been landed via a device that would otherwise very likely have gotten off before they could have been grabbed. This is one of the reasons many guides choose to use landing devices.
Using a landing device often results in getting the hooks out and the fish back in the water faster than a release without. The other issue is safety. An apparently docile fish lying at boatside with a set or two of trebles dangling can be a dangerous proposition
The general guideline is if fish are hooked on lures with a single set of hooks, or the bait and position of the hooks are such that there is minimal risk of the fish snagging the angler, and especially if the hooks appear easy to pop out, and if no photos are desired, then water release is probably the way to go. In all other cases, landing devices are generally safer and quicker. The fish is subdued, its motion is limited, and loose hooks will hang in the mesh.
Soon, we'll talk measuring, but I want to point out here that this is a major sticking point with fishing alone. EVERYTHING about releasing alone is harder to accomplish, and most importantly, slower.