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Fishing WisconsinBring 'em up, put 'em back - gently: lake trout

Proper catch and release of lake trout

A lake trout comes to the surface

A lake trout releases air from its swim bladder as an angler slowly brings it to the surface.

Anglers often enjoy the live release of fish they have caught.  However, the successful release of coldwater species such as lake trout from deep water can present challenges.  Bringing a lake trout to the surface from depths of 200 feet or more can be stressful as the fish experiences a substantial reduction in water pressure.  As the water pressure decreases the swim bladder will expand – bloating the fish and causing barotrauma if the pressure is not released.  A fish that is in this condition will not be able to descend and will be exposed to warmer surface water temperatures and predators such as gulls.

To increase the fish's chances of survival:

  • Bring the fish up from deep water at a slow and steady rate. Lake trout are able to release air from the swim bladder (burping) during the ascent if it is not too fast. This practice should apply to fish caught during ice fishing and open water trolling.
  • Handle a fish that you plan to release as little as possible. Air exposure and removal of the protective slime coating can decrease survival. Warmer surface waters also produce stress.
  • Have your camera ready. Anticipate what you will do when you bring your fish to the surface. Be ready – get a couple quick photos – and send the fish safely back to the depths. You'll have evidence of a great memory and know that you have helped improve the quality of future fishing.
Last revised: Tuesday February 28 2017