Many of you may have probably come across the tag #keepemwet on Instagram and other social media these days. You've seen some great posts with dripping wet fish or fish still in the water. Fish look best when wet, with their colors and markings even more stunning than ever imagined. Better still, fish when kept wet have a far better chance of survival after their release. Let's take a bit to share with you the principles behind the Keep'em Wet movement and how you can join it.
Keep'em Wet is the result of a dedicated group of individuals who want to see fish handled in the best way possible before being released. Founded by Bryan Huskey, an outdoor photographer and videographer, the team also includes Paul Moinester and Dr. Andy Danylchuk. The whole idea came from a presentation by Bryan regarding his photography of trout, where he first used the term "keep them wet." The point: if you're going to release a fish, handle it in a way where you can give it the best chance at surviving and even thriving.
Every time we hook a fish it experiences some level of stress until we release it. This is a given fact, but by following three simple principles we can make a world of difference in that level of stress a fish experiences. Let's look at each one in a little detail.
1. Minimize Air Exposure
Imagine it this way, after running at your fastest pace for a prolonged time someone forces you to hold your breath for 20 seconds or more. When we hook a fish and bring it to our net, you have your race, then if we pull the fish out of the water we are forcing it to hold its breath. For a fish to recover from that stress it needs to be in the water so it can breathe and pump oxygen throughout its system and allow it's muscles to recover. Holding a fish out of water even for short durations can serious impact a fish's ability to survive (10-20 seconds for some species). So do the fish a favor and keep its mouth and gills fully submerged in the water for as much as possible when handling a fish.
2. Eliminate Contact with Dry Surfaces
This principle is described as the "founding principle" by the Keep'em Wet team. Fish have a protective mucus which protects them from diseases and other foreign elements. Contact with any dry surface will remove this protective layer and make fish more susceptible to disease. Dry surfaces can be our hands, grass and rock, boat bottoms, etc. Do your best to make sure you land the fish in water, wet your hands prior to any handling and hold fish in or slightly above the water (if you must remove it). Make sure you keep the fish away from any dry or hard surfaces.
3. Reduce Handling
In general, the less you handle a fish the better off it will be. Prepare in advance to do this. What are some ways in which you can reduce handling? Start by fishing barbless hooks (or pinch the barb down), always use a net (preferably a rubber net), and having a hook removal tool easily accessible are a good start. These are just 3 of the 10 tips from Keep'em Wet. Check out the full list here.
Now that you have the principles firm in your mind, what can you do to join the movement? It's simple, put these principles into practice each and every time you fish. Even when you are going with the goal of harvesting fish, practicing them will be beneficial. You may have to release a fish because of regulations or for some other reason. Secondly, you can spread the word and educate others about these practices. Keep it positive. No one, including us wants to throw stones or criticize others for their handling of fish. We can lead by example; when using the tag #keepemwet make sure you are posting a picture of the fish being handled in a proper manner.
Who benefits from the Keep'em Wet movement. We cannot say it better than Keep'em Wet themselves so we will quote them.
Lee Wulff famously said, "The finest gift you can give to any fisherman is to put a good fish back." We believe that if you are going to put that gift back, you should want it to be in the best possible condition. By doing so, you are keeping fish healthier, strengthening our fisheries, and helping ensure anglers will have the opportunity to catch fish for years to come.
We here at On the Fly encourage you to join the Keep'em Wet movement as we have. Whether you target fish of the salmonidae family or more robust species apply the principles. We will all win this way. And best yet, the generations to come will have an opportunity to catch the many species of fish when we worked hard to bring back from the brink of extinction.
Keep'em Wet is running some weekly photo challenges on their Instagram account. Head over there and give them a follow and get involved. If you plan on joining us in this movement let us know in the comments below.