Angler Update: Winter Catch and Release Angling Tips
By Nick Buckmaster, CDFW
Catch and release fishing allows anglers to enjoy California’s trout streams without overfishing them. As a part of the sweeping changes to fishing regulations in 2021, most of California’s trout streams are now opened to catch and release angling during winter months. This change helps protect spawning fish (most of California’s trout populations spawn between November and April) while still allowing anglers the opportunity to pursue these vibrantly colored fish.
While this is a fun and enjoyable opportunity, it is crucial that you are careful to avoid killing these fish during the catch and release season.
Catch and release best practices have been publicized during droughts when summer water temperatures skyrocket; however, these are just as important during winter months as they are during summer. The basics of catch and release angling boil down to five things:
- Plan to use artificial lures with single hooks when fishing. Not only are artificial lures legally required in streams during winter months but doing so will decrease the odds of a gut-hooked fish (which usually do not survive). In addition to artificial lures, limiting your use of treble hooks can reduce injuries to the fish.
- Land your fish quickly. Winter months can be a challenge for most fishes due to both the cold weather and lack of food. Playing your fish until it is completely tired out means that the fish has spent all its energy reserves, reserves that it might not get back for months. Loss of these reserves make them more susceptible to disease, predators and starvation.
- Use a rubber landing net for large fish. Small fish can be released without taking them out of the water, but larger fish are more difficult to control. Using a rubber landing net (rather than beaching the fish or using cloth) keeps the fish from losing their protective coating.
- Don’t squeeze your fish or put your finger in its gills. Trout do not have sturdy ribs, and it is relatively easy to hold them so tightly that you damage their gills, heart or other organs.
- Try to only hold the fish out of water for more than a couple of seconds. Showing your buddies a photo of your catch is a great way to share the experience (and finally convince them that the fish really was as big as your said). When you do take a photo of your catch it is important to only hold it out of water for a couple of seconds. Remember that the fish just exhausted itself fighting you, much like running a marathon, and fish can’t breathe when they are out of the water. Holding the fish out of water is like running up a flight of stairs and holding your breath: even the best athletes feel the lactic acid and carbon dioxide buildup when this happens.
Remember to also check the CDFW Inland Fishing Regulations (PDF) to make sure the stream you plan to fish is open.
Tight lines and good luck!