MOST fishing clubs and associations impose limits on the size and numbers of fish which may be taken by members or visitors. These restrictions in the interests of conservation are usually clearly written on the membership card or permit. If you have been invited to fish private water, however, it is both courteous and wise to ask the owner before you start about any special limitations. The size limit, given in inches, refers to the length of the fish from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail. It varies, of course, on different waters and, for trout, normally lies between nine and fifteen inches. The easiest way to ensure that you have a quick reference is to mark off the butt of your rod or net handle at inch intervals.
How to Kill Fish
The task of despatching a fine, fighting fish which has provided sport is frequently distasteful. However, the fish deserves a speedy end and unnecessary suffering can be avoided by prompt action. A trout can be quickly killed by grasping it firmly round the middle, lifting it clear of the net and smartly rapping the top of its head against the nearest solid object. A stone, or even at a pinch the hard heel of your wader, is often sufficient and not more than two blows should be needed. Another method of dealing with small fish is to insert the thumb of the right hand into the mouth. A sharp jerk forces the head backwards and breaks the spine. This causes instantaneous death but is only possible with small fish. If you are fishing a loch or reservoir, the whole operation can be carried out without leaving the water but be careful that your prize does not wriggle through your fingers. After killing, wash your fish and wrap it in a plastic bag. These are very convenient for keeping fish clean and fresh, and also prevent slime and scales gathering in the corners of your fishing-bag and causing a rank odour at a later date.
Larger trout, sea trout and salmon are not killed by such means and it is essential to carry some sort of instrument if you are on a water where there is a chance of taking a really sizable fish. The most popular weapon is a ‘priest’. This consists of a fairly stout piece of wood with a shaped handle and a central core of lead at one end to give added weight. Most tackle shops sell them but, if you prefer, one can be easily constructed at home. About fifteen inches is a convenient length and it is important to attach a leather thong to the unweighted end so that it can be secured to the wrist like a policeman’s baton. The scales and slime from a fish can be very slippery and the priest may become difficult to hold at a vital moment. It does add weight to your bag but it is better to suffer this minor inconvenience than to find yourself frantically searching for a suitable stone, or attempting, ineffectively and cruelly, to kill a twenty-pound fish with the handle of a gaff.
With a big fish, it is usually most convenient to kneel down and hold the fish firmly pressed to the ground with the left hand behind its head. Two or three sharp blows delivered to the head just behind the snout should be sufficient. A large salmon, however, is by no means easy to kill and the blows must be directed to the right spot and with some force. If you land your fish on a sloping bank, take special care that it does not slither out of your grasp and re-enter the water. Carrying large fish for any distance is a troublesome job and a long, wicker bag with a handle is a worthwhile purchase from the tackle dealer if you hope to catch a salmon.
Returning Undersized Specimens
From time to time, you will undoubtedly hook fish which are under the size limit. It is not enough merely to return such small specimens to the water. It must be done with some understanding and care since rough handling may kill them. When a small fish is netted, wet both hands before touching it. This helps to avoid damage to the scales, an important point since any skin abrasions may permit the entry of bacterial or fungal organisms which can cause fatal diseases.
Grasp the fish gently just below the gills – too much pressure might rupture or damage internal organs. In disengaging the hook, run your fingers up the cast until the eye of the hook can be held. With this leverage and a modicum of patience, a to-and-fro movement will soon permit the barb to be slipped out. There is no need for rough tugging or pulling which damages tissues. Occasionally, you may find that the fly has been well swallowed and cannot be freed in this way. In such a case, it may be possible to insert one finger gently through the gill cover and work the hook out.
Once the hook has been disengaged, and still holding the fish with the same light pressure, bend down and slip it back under the surface of the water. Never throw it back. Treated considerately like this, it will be off in a flash and none the worse for the experience. Sometimes, a fish may take a few seconds to flap its gills and re-oxygenate its blood before it is able to swim away. If so, and it is lying inertly on its side, hold it upright under the water until it has recovered.
Gutting a Fish
Ideally, a fish should be gutted as soon as it is caught, but few anglers ever do. They prefer to delay the task until they get home. If you are going to make a gift of your fish, the value and appreciation is doubled if it has been gutted first. Here’s how to set about it. (1) Cut off all the fins. If preferred the tail can be left intact. Insert the point of the scissors in the vent and cut up the abdomen to the edge of the gills. Make sure that the body cavity is opened and cut with the scissor tips in an upward and outward direction to avoid splitting open any of the entrails. (2) Cut off the head of the fish at the lower edge of the gills. If the fish is small, this can be done with one bite of the scissors; if large, it may be necessary to go round in a circle. (3) Grasp the entrails (sometimes the swim-bladder which enables the fish to swim in mid-water appears as a ballooned-out organ filled with air) and pull sharply downwards towards the vent. They will come away readily from the body and can be pulled out of the fish at the vent. The dark red kidney masses covered with a tough capsule are all that remain. (4) Cut through the cellophane-like kidney capsule and scrape the kidneys away with the point of the scissors. At this stage it helps to hold the fish under a running tap and to wash the debris away.
This is a matter of personal preference. I prefer trout, sea trout and salmon gently poached or simmered in boiling water for about fifteen minutes and then allowed to cool. An interesting smoker is now on the market by a Scandinavian firm, ABU Ltd. Special oak chips are supplied and fish can be smoked to taste.