Pete Maina takes his position as "Release Editor" for Esox Angler magazine very seriously, and shows that passion for properly releasing fish in this, another reprint of one of his highly touted "Release 'em Right" columns from the pages of Esox Angler Magazine.
Before I get to my main topic, I want to revisit the topic of live and dead bait use briefly. In past issues of Esox Angler Magazine, I have discussed this topic in detail, since spring is a season where live and dead bait are commonly used. At the time, I discussed the importance of using quickstrike rigging, and NOT allowing ingestion of bait and hook(s). This plea has been further backed-up by Michael Butler, citing mortality rates from studies done with different species (including pike) as further warning/proof that ingested hooks kill.
Recently "circle" hooks have been promoted as an alternative to quickstrike rigs. These hooks are touted as potentially, or in some cases definitely (which is the reason for this mention; the potential to continue to kill muskies is VERY real) being a safe alternative to the old standard, square (swallow) hooks. But, keep in mind that circle hooks involve waiting for the fish to "turn" the bait, and therefore, potential for ingestion still exists. Until more is discovered about these hooks, the safest thing for the good of esocids is to stick exclusively with quickstrike rigging and immediate setting when using bait. There are many variables with respect to the use of circle hooks, and while there have been some positive reports, there are also reports of fish still being hooked in the stomach or gullet. Until more is known about these hooks, I'd like to suggest that you err on the safe side.
The tools of the trade for proper, effective catch and release for esox can't be discussed too much. Neither can the basics of handling release properly. So, a list of tools again is a must (I know this is a repeat for many of you, but it is important stuff! For those hearing this again, remember those new to the sport and this website and bear with me). Without the following tools, the Johnsons, Burns, Pearsons‹no one, no matter how many Esox Release Toolsmuskies they have handled, can release effectively or safely. The mandatory tools at all times (the "have them or don't go" tools) include long-nose pliers (11 inch models are great), quality hook cutters; Knipex are simply the best and are available through and jaw spreaders. Back-up sets of each are a great idea. Other suggested items that make release even more efficient and safe, include "hookouts", heavy gloves, split-ring pliers, spare hooks (preferably pre-sharpened) and quality landing devices which include large nets, cradles or the net/cradle hybrid.
Another part of successful release is the angler's mindset. With fishing, the right frame of mind is as much a tool as a rod and reel, and it's the same with release. A proactive mindset is as important a tool as your hook cutters. Make