What’s the Best Way to Hold a Fish?


Noah and Capt. Colt Harrison with a monster tarpon. It was dehooked, photographed, and released without leaving the water.

Bringing a fish onto the boat safely is also important for your photos as a vibrant, colorful, healthy looking fish makes for the best photos. Now, what’s the best way to hold it to make it look as big as possible without hurting the fish? A recent study by Skaggs et al. (2017) showed that in terms of long-term survival, there really is not much of a difference to largemouth bass if you hold them vertically by the lip with one hand/lip gripper or if you hold them horizontally with an extra hand to support the belly.

Bigger fish have more weight to be pulled down on by gravity, though, so larger species like striped bass should be held horizontal to avoid damaging their jaw or internal organs. Fish with teeth shouldn’t be lipped at all (duh), but you can still support their belly with one hand and their tail with another. Holding fish by gill covers should be avoided as this can damage their gills. Many also fish have sharp gill covers, like snook, and can badly cut your hand if you hold them like that.

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Noah with a common snook (Centropomus undecimalis), supporting its belly at arm’s length, with a slight bend in the elbow while facing the sun. This makes this 5 five pounder look like a 10 pounder!

Fish do revive more quickly when you hold them horizontally for photos and dehooking (Skaggs et al., 2017), though. So, while lipping fish my not harm them in the long-run if you revive them properly (see blog post on fish CPR), it is best for them if you support their belly with a hand as well. Supporting the belly also makes for a great picture, as it bulges the belly out, making the fish look fatter! For best photos, you should also hold the fish out almost at arm’s length, to make the fish look as big as possible. However, you’ll want a slight bend in your elbows so it doesn’t look like you’re doing that. For best lighting, face the sun, preferably with sunglasses. Then, take the photo as quickly as possible, as a fish’s colors will fade the longer it is out of the water. Now, send in your best fish pics to @AFishingStoryTV!

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Noah Bressman is a PhD candidate studying fish biology, behavior, and biomechanics at Wake Forest University. Below is Noah with an Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), caught on a blue and silver Kastmaster spoon at Seneca Lake, NY. Note the hand on the bulging belly makes the fish look fatter, but the hand in front of the tail obscures the tail. For the best photos, you should hold the tail from behind.

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Skaggs, J., Quintana, Y., Shaw, S. L., Allen, M. S., Trippel, N. A., & Matthews, M. (2017). Effects of common angler handling techniques on Florida Largemouth Bass behavior, feeding, and survival. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 37(2), 263-270.

Tiedemann, J. & Danylchuk, A. (2012). Assessing Impacts of Catch and Release Practices on Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) Implications for Conservation and Management. https://www.monmouth.edu/uci/documents/2018/10/best-practices-striped-bass-catch-and-release-report.pdf/

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>