What Happens if You Leave a Hook in a Fish?

What Happens if You Leave a Hook in a Fish?

If a fish is caught and left with a hook in its mouth, it can lead to injury or mortality, depending on various factors.

As fishermen, we have all been in that unfortunate situation where the hook on our fishing line remains in a fish’s mouth. We try our absolute best to remove the hook, but different obstacles and deep hooking can sometimes prevent us from doing so successfully.

This topic has garnered a lot of research over the years and has certainly created some controversy. Can the fish survive with a hook in its mouth? Studies have shown that they can.

Can a Fish Survive With a Hook in Its Throat?

It depends on the type of hook, the location of the hook within the fish’s mouth, and the handling and care provided by the angler.

Larger or barbed hooks may cause more damage and make it harder for a fish to remove the hook on its own or for an angler to remove it safely.

If the hook is lodged deep in the throat or has penetrated vital organs, it can pose a greater risk to the fish’s survival.

The species and size of the fish play a role in determining the impact of a swallowed hook. Smaller or more delicate fish may be more vulnerable to injury, while big fish may have a better chance of surviving with a hook in their throat.

The handling and care provided by the angler can greatly influence the fish’s survival. If the angler handles the fish gently, avoids excessive stress, and minimizes the time the fish is out of the water, it can increase the chances of the fish recovering and surviving.

In many cases, removing the hook as quickly and safely as possible is recommended to maximize the fish’s chances of survival. If a fish is deeply hooked or if attempts to remove the hook may cause further harm or distress, consider keeping the fish for consumption to minimize suffering and waste.

What Can a Fisherman Do if a Fish Has Swallowed the Hook?

Releasing a fish that has swallowed a hook is a safer option compared to trying to retrieve the hook. A fish has a very strong stomach, and the hook can actually erode away over time once it reaches the stomach. Their body has enough acidic enzymes to naturally break down the materials that make up a hook.

The thinner the hook, the quicker it will dissolve. This option is way better than forcing pliers into the digestive tract to unhook the fish.

On the other hand, a hook in the belly can potentially cause internal injuries to organs or the gastrointestinal tract.

The severity of the injury and the fish’s ability to heal will depend on factors such as the size of the hook, the depth of penetration, and the fish’s natural healing processes.

Yellow bass on fishing hook
Yellow bass on fishing hook

Why Is it Important to Remove a Hook From a Fish?

Throughout my time fishing, I was always told that a hook would eventually fall out of the fish on its own. Many studies have been done, but the evidence still shows that a lot of fish will still not make it, even if the mortality is slightly delayed.

Hook Poisoning – Back in the day, fishing hooks were made of a material known as tin cadmium. These hooks contributed to higher morality rates because of cadmium poisoning. Luckily, fishing tackle companies have made some much-needed innovations with their development of hooks. Further analysis shows that bronze hooks may be the best option, as they show the highest likelihood of falling out of the mouth of a fish.

Stainless steel hooks are also a good choice since they are non-toxic, which means it does not leach harmful substances into the water or pose a risk to the fish’s health.

Blocked Esophagus – When the fish returns to its normal eating habits, the food itself can cause the hook to be pushed further down the throat and block the esophagus of the fish. To this day, hooks are still very sharp and can do some real damage to an esophagus.

Depending on the circumstance, sometimes the hook will be accompanied by a portion of the fishing line that remains tied to the hook. Interestingly enough, the length of the line actually benefits the fish and can help force the hook to the opposite side, allowing the fish to eat safely.

Different Reasons for Leaving the Hook in a Fish

No fisherman ever wants to leave the hook in a mouth of a fish. When releasing a fish, you want to ensure it stays alive and returns to its ecosystem. However, when you can’t remove the hook, it’s usually the best decision at that moment.

Here are the most common reasons that would cause an angler to leave a hook in the mouth of a fish:

  • Line Breaks – For this instance, an angler could be battling a fish hooked on the line until the fish suddenly breaks off from the line. This may occur if the teeth of the fish break a line (always fish with a leader) or the fish gets caught into a structure underwater, such as rocks or a reef. Now, the fish is no longer on your fishing line, but it could still have the hook in its mouth.
  • Fish Swallows Hook – Sometimes, we hook the fish a little too well. In these situations, the fish swallows the entire hook. However, if you want to try to retrieve the hook, you could cause greater harm to the fish.
  • Dangerous or Large Fish – There are many fish in the ocean we should avoid close contact with. If you happen to hook one of these types of fish, it is probably safer to purposely release the fish by cutting the line.

What Percent of Fish Live After Catch and Release?

Some studies have reported survival rates above 90% for certain fish species. However, for more fragile or sensitive species or under less ideal conditions, survival rates may be lower.

Anglers with experience in release fishing practices, including proper handling and hook removal techniques, can increase the chances of fish survival. Minimizing handling time, keeping the fish in the water as much as possible, and using tools like barbless hooks or de-hooking devices can improve survival rates.

Watch the video below for more details on deep-hooked fish survival chances.

Does deep-hooked fish survive?

Best Hooks To Use for Catch-and-Release

When practicing catch-and-release fishing, it is generally recommended to use hooks that minimize harm to the fish and increase their chances of survival.

Barbless hooks are designed with a flattened or reduced barb, making it easier to remove from a fish’s mouth or body.

Circle hooks are widely used in catch-and-release fishing, particularly for species like bass, catfish, and saltwater fish.

Single hooks, such as Octopus or inline single hooks, have a single point and are less likely to cause injury or deep hooking than treble hooks. They are a good alternative for lures or baits that come with treble hooks.

Non-offset hooks have a straight shank, where the point aligns with the eye of the hook. These hooks are designed to reduce deep hooking.

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