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A Fly Fisherman's Guide to Handling a Trout

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

Whether fishing at your local kids pond or in a high mountain stream, it’s important to take proper care of any trout. As many anglers know, trout are incredibly fragile. Not only are they a vital food source for many other species, but they are also one of the best indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Unfortunately, trout populations are beginning to dwindle as fewer bodies of water remain a clean and viable habitat. In Colorado, the native Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout is already believed to be extinct. Below are a few action items that will help ensure our remaining trout populations stay healthy and keep us fly fishing for years to come!

1. Use a net

Many anglers underestimate the importance of using a net to capture the fish. Not only will this protect the trout from smashing into rocks or the bank, but we assure you that you will land fish more often! Rubber nets work best to keep the natural coating of the trout undamaged. Check out our favorite net from Fishpond below!

Nobody likes hearing about “the one that got away”!

2. Use barbless hooks

By using barbless hooks, you will reduce the physical damage sustained to the fish. Barbless hooks are far easier to remove especially if the fly has been partially ingested. Below is a link to a highly rated set of flies!

3. Wet your hands

Once you have successfully landed the fish, make sure to always wet your hands before handling the trout. Oils from our hands can be harmful to the fish so it’s important to always rinse your hands with the lake or river water before handling the trout.

4. Keep it brief

Trout are particularly susceptible to suffocation and they can survive out of water for a maximum of 30 seconds. Fight the urge to admire the beautiful creature out of the water for too long. If you would like to take time admiring the fish or snap a photo, keep it submerged and in your net for as long as possible. Suffocation is exacerbated if the water temperature is above 65 degrees. As stated on the Trout Unlimited website, “Colorado is notorious for having drought conditions and high temps in the summer. Please be advised before you make your trip out to check local regulations and water temperatures. A water thermometer is another great tool to add to your fishing bag for your next trip.”

5. Use the Tailing Technique

If and when you pick up a trout, begin by gently gripping the the fishes tail and then use your free hand to gently reach the underbelly of the fish. Once lifted, keep the fish in or near the surface of the water. This technique limits the fish's range of motion and reduces the chance of drops. Don’t be the moron who drags a fish on the bank as it will almost certainly die.

6. Keep it clean

Make sure to never throw excess lines or lures into the water. These plastic items damage the ecosystem and often kill trout and other wildlife when consumed. It goes without saying, but if the fishing areas stay clean, we will all have a more pleasant time enjoying Colorado’s beautiful streams and rivers. Also consider using biodegradable strike indicators such as the product linked below!

We appreciate all of the anglers who practice these techniques and hope to teach and inspire more anglers to do so. These practices will help Colorado river ecosystems remain healthy and make the art of fly fishing more sustainable.

If you would like to support sustainable fishing here in Colorado, please consider purchasing one of our band new ColoradBro hats! All proceeds will be donated to Trout Unlimited of Colorado. Trout Unlimited is the leading non-profit in protecting and resorting the state's cold water fisheries and watersheds. Please visit their website if you would like to learn more about the work they do to conserve, protect, and restore Colorado’s cold water fisheries. We have also linked their film below on YouTube!

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