Catch and release fishing has become the norm among responsible fishers who hope to ensure a robust bonefish population for many years to come.
To keep these efforts successful, it’s important to minimize the amount of time that bonefish spend out of the water, and to limit overall handling. Many people who travel to Grand Bahama Island for these experiences want to capture impressive images of their hauls, before setting them free. The good news is that with the right equipment and strategies, you can take amazing photos of every catch, without harming bonefish, and without wasting a lot of time.
Start With A Good Camera And Great Lighting
Head out to the flats equipped with a good digital, high-resolution camera. Digital cameras are becoming increasingly lower in cost, even as the related technology continues to improve. SLR cameras are best for catch and release photography, but you can still take some amazing photo with a point-and-shoot model. Keep your camera set for high-resolution shots and make sure that the sun is at your back. Setting your camera in advance will limit last-minute fumbling so that you can get your shot and send the bonefish on his way before he becomes fatigued. Having the sun at your back will light your shot perfectly while ensuring that there are no shadows on your subject.
Use A Barbless Hook
Barbless hooks serve the dual-purpose of limiting physical harm to fish and making it infinitely easier to get hooks back out before photographing and releasing them. You don’t need a barbed hook in order to get a solid hook-set. In fact, many seasoned bonefishers assert that the deepest hook-sets are often obtained with barbless hook designs. If you can’t find these hooks ahead of your trip, use a pair of pliers to smash the barbs flat so that they lay flush with the hook wire.
Practice Good Handling
Bonefish spend the entirety of their lives in a zero-gravity environment. This means that their bodies simply aren’t made to be held out of the water and vertically. The best way to photograph bones before releasing them is without ever taking them out of the water. The “no-touch” release minimizes the amount stress and trauma that these fish must endure, and it also greatly increases their likelihood of survival. For a no-touch release, simply leave the bone in the water and guide him towards your pliers using the leader. You can pop the hook and snap your photo in a matter of seconds.
It doesn’t hurt to try getting out of the boat and landing bones right in the water either. If you absolutely have to handle the fish, make sure that your hands are wet and free from any sunblock or other products that might cause harm. Be mindful of the slimy, protective coating that covers the bodies of bonefish, as wiping this off can lead to significant stress and illness post-release. Also, always support bonefish at both the tail and the underbelly, rather than attempting to hold them by their jaws. A bone that’s been handled roughly at the jaw might swim away well enough, but he may never be able to eat again as the result.