By Brad Wiegmann

If you fish much, there will come a time when you hook one deep in the throat. A hook in the back of the throat is more dangerous to the fish, not only because of the initial piercing of the flesh, but also because you can injure the fish simply trying to remove the hook.

But, it’s not a sure death sentence for the fish. If you take care to remove the hook quickly and get the fish back into the water, chances are it will live to be caught again.

Begin the hook removal process by keeping the fish in the water until you’re ready to take out the hook. Wet your hands so you don’t remove the fish’s protective slime coat while handling it.

“The old theory of cutting the fishing line as close to the hook as possible and leaving it lodged in the mouth doesn’t work like it used to,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director. “With all of the new long-lasting materials used to construct hooks, they don’t rust out quickly like they used to. It’s best to get that hook out as quickly as possible. If you have one handy, use a hook-removing tool to expedite the process.”

Some fish, like bluegills, trout and perch, have small mouths that can make it difficult or even impossible to get your fingers in there to work out the hook. This makes a hook remover even more important. Although it might be tempting to go at the hook by sticking your fingers through the fish’s gills, Gilliland says this is a big no-no.

“The angler is removing the slime coat and damaging the delicate gills,” he said. “The survival rate for that fish goes way down if you do that.”

Three steps to ensure the survival of deep-hooked fish are:
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1.    Keep the fish in the water until you’re totally ready to remove the hook.
2.    Use a hook-removal tool, especially with small-mouthed fish.
3.    Revive the fish before releasing by grabbing the tail and pulling the fish back-and-forth in the water. When it’s ready to be released it will shake its tail and lurch out of your hand.

Of course, the use of barbless hooks make hook removal much easier. These hooks simply slip back out of the flesh.

The final piece of advice – if the fish isn’t going to survive and qualifies to be kept under all state, federal and local laws, keep it and eat it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping enough fish to make a meal, especially one that won’t survive anyway.