I must first say, I am not pontificating/advocating from some position (fragile, pourous, phoney) of C & R rightousness. I am offering a reminder on a few levels for the stillwater fly fisher (and for rivers as well I spose)…. do not over play your fish; do not use gear that is to weak to do the job.
I have had my share of big fish hooked and played too long. I have used 3-4 wt. rods while fishing for 5#+ fish. I have gone with fragile tippets and small hooks. I have fished in oxygen depleted waters for big fish. In each instance, I enjoyed the fight or semblance of an exhausted fight. I brought the fish in and netted it up onto the apron for the obligatory photo or just to measure or to extricate the fly. Such moments of self-satisfaction and reverence for the fish.
That reverence is quickly challenged after you release the fish and sit there in your euphoric stupor. Gazing out at the horizon, a smirk on your face. Then as you look down at the rod, preparing to find another love affair, you notice that dreaded site…a glint of white. The belly of a fish…your fish.
Oh no! Oh my! A humorous and serious visual commences as the fly fisher attempts to move backwards or forwards with oars toward that bobbing fish in the film. Time is critical…time you maybe should have better used up front to revive the fish before release. You move close to the fish but seem to push it away with your approach and waves.
Eventually, you will reach the fish and attempt to position it near your tube, alongside your boat or between the pontoons. All of this takes time. You grasp the fish. It is still alive. Gills flaring over so slow as you right the fish and attempt to move it back and forth to hopefully assist in infusing oxygen across those gills.
Sometimes the fish will respond and descend downward to what you hope is recovery. Sometimes you don’t and you now have a trout for the freezer. Hmmm? You didn’t plan on that did you? No ice chest. No intent of killing and keeping a trout?
So, use a rod that will have the back bone to get that fish near and allow you to hoist it near your waiting hand to extricate the fly. Try to avoid hoisting an exhausted fish or most fish for that matter toward the sky. I know, I know…you will do it but just know that fish better have lots of spunk left and not take a beating up on your apron or go crashing out of your grasp against the oars or frame of a pontoon boat.
Although it hardly seems imminent right now, given the cold Spring/early Summer so far, but recognize when the lake is oxygen depleted. The lake will become stratified with minimal oxygen at certain levels (study thermocline/stratification/Brian Chan in search swittersb box, upper right).
Get the fish in and release it with the reverence you attest to…so that it will recover. Belly up trophy trout will bring your sense of pious purity to a screeching halt…. I know from personal experiences over the years. Here is a site at North American Trout that, photographically, shows what a tangled web we weave when we land a fish onto our apron. I don’t offer this up as a critical commentary, only when the conditions (fish exhaustion, water temps, oxygen levels) are hostile to the fish and you are doing this (pictures in post re Apache Trout), be aware. The visuals are perfect. Handling Trout On the Apron. Also, one more qualifier…the fish pic above is not of a dying fish. It is a fish about to be netted or brought to the apron. That pose is similar to what you see after you release the fish. I am not given nor have composure to capture the real thing, so I am borrowing the shot to simulate the posture.