GETTING TO THE POINT – HOOK REMOVAL AND DISGORGES - 17th October 2011
Watch any experienced sea angler remove a deeply lodged hook from a fish and it’s all over in a second, but for many novices and even some old hands, unhooking can be a traumatic and difficult task. The welfare of the fish is a considerable problem, especially for the novice sea anglers because a majority of sea fish are small, less than 5lb and the hooks we use are large and capable of inflicting harm to a small fish’s mouth unless they are removed carefully.
If you are fishing for the pot, and lots of sea anglers still do, then damaging the fish is not so much of an issue because it has already been dispatched, but if you want to return even a proportion of the smaller fish you catch, removing deeply embedded hooks is a problem.
Preventing fish taking hooks deeply in the first place is not always an option because most UK species eat first, swallow second, there is no thinking involved. Striking early can help, but it is not a fail safe solution and anyway the casting range and the fishing tackle used, especially on the shore, often only shows a bite when a fish is already hooked.
De-hooking quickly and efficiently is mostly about technique and angles, you simply need to manoeuvre the hook bend so that you are pulling against the barb only. A major problem for many is that they pull against the hook point and bend and this is what does the damage. Only practice will make you efficient with the method and it’s a good idea if you struggle to get an experienced angler to show you the how.
Disgorgers, de-hooking pliers, long nosed pliers and artery forceps can all help to make the task easier and less harmful to the fish, but there is a technique and skill to the procedure, a disgorger is not a short cut to easy de hooking if you don’t know how to use it!
One of the first things you can do to improve his unhooking efficiency is to use long shanked hooks. Whilst short shanks can often be superior for bait presentation, long shanks are the easiest to remove simply because there is more of the shank to grip hold of to twist, angle, bend or push. Soft wire hooks are another commonly used option although these can straighten when pulled and a sharp barb can cut the fish mouth inside. Micro barbed hooks are hooks are very practical if you want to fish catch and release and another alternative is to crush the barb of your hooks with a pair of pliers and you retain a fish holding bump at the hook point rather than a sharp, damaging barb.
A further alternative is to use smaller hooks. Coarse anglers catch carp on tiny hooks and its possible to also do this at sea provided your fishing tackle is balanced and your catch does not have to be lifted. Match anglers are increasingly adopting hooks down to size 10 because of the increase in catch and release events and these are far easier to remove without damaging the fish than the larger sizes. Small hooks are also more suited to removal with a freshwater type disgorger.
Lots of sea anglers use their finger as a disgorger, simply push your fore finger into the bend of the hook, push the hook and remove. Great for toothless fish, but for some like dogfish it’s not practical unless you want a shredded finger, so a disgorger is a worthwhile tool! The best disgorgers for use with shore fish in my opinion is the Gemini. To operate simply slide the eye of the disgorger on to the snood line and push it down to the hook bend. Pull the hook snood line really tight with the other hand in the opposite direction and shake the fish and it should fall off the hook. A freshwater disgorger like the largest Stomfo model is the complete answer when using smaller hooks from flatfish and other small species.
Check out the TF Gear DVD with Matt Hayes and Alan Yates fishing in south Wales for a disgorger demo – its out soon.
When you reel in your fish drop it, still on the rig into a bucket of water. This allows it to revive before you remove the hook and return it.
You can damage some of the delicate species by holding them in your bare dry hands. Handle with a wet cloth or hold them by the mouth. Watch out for dogfish which will curl their tail up your arm if you hold them by the head and their rasping skin can take the skin off your wrist.
The last resort if a fish is deeply hooked is to cut the line as near the hook as you can and return the fish rather than wrestling the hook out which may kill the fish.
Hook in your finger etc? Then the hospital or doctor is the only solution, although a small hook can be removed in an emergency with a loop of strong line around the hook bend and a sharp pull when the “victim” is not looking.