People fish for many reasons, but responsible fishermen follow basic protocols that make the experience more enjoyable and improves the likelihood of a good day on the water.

The following information was provided by FishSmart. For more best fishing practices visit, Follows these tips to ensure safe and responsible angling.

Plan Ahead

Expect to release fish on any given trip and prepare the equipment necessary to do so. Know your fishing regulations


Develop skills to target the size and species you desire.

Catch & release is ok, but if catching too many fish that you cannot, or do not want to keep, change the depth that you are fishing, move to a different area, or use different bait.

Appropriate Gear

Use gear suited to the size of fish that you are trying to catch including the size of hooks that catch fish that you want but not others.

Use circle hooks where recommended and be aware that fishing techniques are different from “J” style hooks. For more information about the impact of hook types and South Atlantic hook regulations see the sections below.

Landing Fish

Develop skills to target the size and species you desire.

  • Don’t play fish to exhaustion.
  • Use line strength to minimize playing time.
  • Land the fish as quickly as possible.
  • If possible, leave them in the water rather than bringing them out of the water.
Handling Fish

Use knotless rubberized landing nets and rubberized gloves, to avoid removing the slime layer from their body.

Keep the fish horizontal; support the body when lifting large fish. DON’T DROP THE FISH onto hard surfaces or long distances! This causes great harm.

Releasing Fish

If needed, use a release tool (dehookers, recompression tools) to minimize handling and successfully release your catch.

Time is of the essence!

Release fish as soon as practical and do not keep them out of the water longer than necessary.

What are some best fishing practices for fish caught at deep depths?

The following information was provided by FishSmart. For more best fishing practices visit,

Assess condition while reeling in fish

Signs of barotrauma include (any or all of the following):

  • Sluggish swimming.
  • “pop eye.”
  • Sstomach protruding from mouth.
  • SBloated mid-section.
Learn more about barotrauma in the section “What is Barotrauma” below.
If the fish appears normal release it without removing it from the water.

Rapidly returning fish to depth (“recompression”) is the method of choice for returning barotrauma affected fish.

A variety of recompression tools are on the market, including descender devices, release weights, release baskets, and others.

See the video here to see various recompression tools in action.

Return to Depth

Return fish to the depth of capture. If catching fish at very deep depths, returning them as deep as possible will dramatically improve survival.


If rapid descent is not possible, venting is another, but less preferable, option.

Use established guidelines for venting such as found at

Note that the fish’s stomach may protrude from its mouth. Do NOT puncture the stomach.

What is Barotrauma?

Fish experience barotrauma, a condition caused by a change in pressure, when a fish is rapidly reeled to the surface. The change in pressure causes air in the swimbladder to expand and prevents the fish from being able to swim back down to the bottom. The inflated swimbladder acts like a “floatie” for children and keeps the fish at the surface. Barotrauma can occur when fish are brought up from depths as shallow as 30 feet. It is most common in fish reeled up from greater than 90 feet and becomes more severe when reeled up from deeper depths. Descending devices can be used to return fish back to the bottom. Signs of barotrauma are displayed in the pictures below.


Pictures provided by Brendan Runde, Department of Applied Ecology, NC State University.

A released red snapper showing signs of barotrauma is unable to swim back down to the bottom after being released.

What is the impact of hook type on a fish?

Hook type can influence the survivorship of released fish because certain hooks types are more likely to hook fish in the jaw. A jaw hooked fish is more likely to survive when released than a fish hooked in the stomach, eye, or gill. Please note:

  • Non-offset circle hooks are less likely to cause injury than other hook types.

Circle Hook

J Hook

Non offset Circle Hook

Offset J Hook

Hooks were provided by Charleston Angler.

In a study by Bacheler and Buckel (2004), scientists investigated if the type of hook used while fishing impacted the number of grouper caught, the size of grouper, and the number of grouper injured by hooks. The scientists found that when circle hooks were used, injuries from hooks to groupers and other non-target species significantly decreased.

In another study, researchers looked at the amount of red snapper deaths due to hook related injuries. This information was developed by Sauls et al. in 2016 and presented in SEDAR 41. As displayed in the table below, non-offset circle hooks have the lowest chance of potentially lethal hooking.
Hook-Type Lip or Jaw Potentially Lethal Location Percent Potentially Lethal
Non-offset circle 652 31 4.5%
Offset circle 1,245 96 7.2%
Non-offset J 141 16 10.2%
Offset J 743 170 18.6%
Other (Kahle, Treble) 19 3 13.6%

The Hook Location is used to estimate release mortality.

Where is the circle hook regulation boundary?

Circle hooks are required when fishing for or possessing snapper grouper species in federal waters north of 28 degrees North. This is approximately located east of Juan Ponce Park in Melbourne Beach, Florida.