How to Unhook a Gut-Hooked Fish: Read This First

September 30, 2021

You’re on your boat waiting patiently when you suddenly feel that familiar tug at the fishing rod. As you reel in and pull the caught fish out of the water, you’re hit with the realization that the fish has been gut-hooked.

To keep the fish alive and avoid causing it further damage, you’ll have to quickly but gently remove the hook from its gut.

Moreover, unhooking a fish efficiently can increase its survival rate after release.

That being said, this article compiles the equipment and steps to show you how to unhook a gut-hooked fish. It also provides you with tips on how to handle a gut-hooked fish and how to keep it from being in pain.

Step 1: Get the Right Equipment

You should know the pieces of equipment you’ll need to be prepared for this task. With the right tools and steps, you can successfully unhook a gut-hooked fish without causing it much pain.

Although this process can be done by hand, using unhooking tools can make things easier and protect the gut-hooked fish from further harm.

There is some equipment that you should have on your boat whenever you’re out fishing. Here is what you need:

  • Fine-meshed net
  • Any unhooking tool:
    • Long-nosed pliers
    • Disgorger
    • De-hooking pliers
    • Artery forceps
  • Disinfectant

Step 2: Reel in the Fish

Unhook a Gut-Hooked Fish

The steps to unhooking a gut-hooked fish depend on what you plan to do with the fish.

If you’re practicing catch and release or need the fish to stay alive, you should be extra cautious as you unhook it. However, if you’re not releasing the fish, then you don’t need to be as careful.

Wet your bare hands before you hold the gut-hooked fish to prevent the scales from sticking to your hands. Then, reel the fish in as quickly as possible. Fish can suffer from exhaustion and stress the longer they stay out of water.

Once you’ve reeled in the fish, gently hold it around its pectoral fins and place a finger under its chin. Hold the fish belly-up in the water to disorient it if it’s still flapping around.

Next, carry the fish to a fine-meshed net. When you place it on the net, it should calm down a bit.

Step 3: Determine the Best Way to Unhook a Gut-Hooked Fish

If, for any reason, you don’t have any unhooking tools, you can unhook the fish using your fingers. Start by holding the hook’s eyelet. Then, gently slide it following the curve.

However, using unhooking tools is more preferable because they can protect you from getting bitten and give you a more precise grip on the hook.

Long-Nosed Pliers

Long-nosed pliers are these scissor-like tools with a narrow, long tip. You can use them to reach inside the fish’s mouth and grab the hook.

Then, carefully slide the hook the same way its curve went into the fish’s flesh.

Disgorgers

Also known as the hook remover, a disgorger is a very useful tool to have while fishing.

To unhook a fish, slide and push the disgorger’s eye down the fishing line with your right hand. Pull the line in the opposite direction with your left hand. The hook should come right off.

Dehooking Pliers

With dehooking pliers, you don’t have to take the fish out of the water. Slide the rounded part down the line until it reaches the hook’s curve. Rotate the pliers upwards and give them a little shake, freeing the fish.

Artery Forceps

Artery forceps are essentially surgical tools. Nevertheless, they can come in handy if a fish gets gut-hooked.

You just have to hold the hook’s curve bend and slowly slide it the same way it went in the fish’s gut.

In most cases, using any unhooking tools will help you remove the hook easily. In the case that the hook is latched on inside the fish, you can use the tool to straighten out the hook.

Squeeze hard the visible curve at the entry point. The hook should straighten enough that you can pull it out easily.

Step 4: Sanitize the Wound

unhook a fish
When it comes time to unhook the fish many anglers are in difficulty.

Use a disinfectant, such as propolis wound sealers, to sanitize the fish’s wound.

These types of disinfectants sterilize and create a waxy seal over the wound as soon as it comes in contact with water.

Afterward, lower the fish by its belly into the water. Let it go when it starts swimming.

And if it doesn’t start swimming right away, move it back and forth a little to allow water to enter the gills.

How to Handle Gut-Hooked Fish Properly?

When a fish gets caught, it may sustain a certain amount of damage. Simply unhooking a fish and releasing it to the sea doesn’t guarantee its survival.

Studies show that poor care of hooked fish can lead to exhaustion and reduce their mortality rates. Moreover, incautious unhooking can significantly decrease the fish’s survival chances.

To ensure that the fish isn’t gravely harmed, there are some basic measures that anglers can take to reduce the damage inflicted on a gut-hooked fish.

Step 1: Prevent Fish Exhaustion

If possible, it’s better to unhook a fish without taking it out of the water. But if it can’t be helped, then you may have to act quickly. The longer a fish stays out of the water, the more exhausted it’ll become, reducing its chances of survival.

That’s why you should avoid placing fish on dry, hot surfaces. You should also avoid exposing them to direct sunlight.

Step 2: Hold Your Fish Properly

The proper way to hold a fish is horizontally, with a hand supporting the belly. If you hold it vertically, the fish’s insides can be displaced, causing the organs to slowly shut down.

Moreover, don’t unhook fish with dry hands. If your hands aren’t wet, the fish’s protective mucus and scales can be rubbed off.

This can lead to the fish contracting diseases and infections after its release.

How to Keep from Gut-Hooking a Fish?

unhooking large trout

Even if unhooking a gut-hooked fish isn’t entirely complicated, it’s still a process that exposes the fish to more harm. For that reason, it might be better to try to avoid gut-hooking altogether.

Choosing the right hook type and size can drastically reduce the chances of gut-hooking a fish.

Hook Type

There are two types of hooks that are known to reduce damage and mortality in caught fish.

Barbless Hooks

Barbless hooks can be taken out quickly and easily because they don’t have a v-shaped piece of metal at their tips. They’ve been gaining popularity as more anglers discover their advantages.

The shape of barbless hooks allows you to simply grab the hook’s eyelet and slide it out. Since the hook won’t catch on anything, the fish’s flesh won’t receive much damage. You won’t have to keep it out of water for long, either.

It should also be noted that barbless hooks are safer for you. Because of their shape, getting accidentally caught will be less painful than being caught by a v-shaped fishing hook.

One downside of barbless hooks is that fish can easily slip off after eating the bait. However, if you’re quick to reel back the line, you shouldn’t face such problems.

Circle Hooks

Circle hooks are like normal hooks, just more rounded. This unique shape is what has caused circle hooks to increase in popularity among anglers.

If we take a closer look at how a circle hook is shaped, we’ll see that the hook’s tip is parallel to the curve of the hook. So, when a fish swallows a circle hook, it won’t get lodged in the fish’s gut.

As you reel in the fish, the hook will come out of the fish’s stomach and hook onto its cheeks or lips. This causes little damage to the fish and zero damage to its insides. And for that reason, they are one of the safest to use.

In addition, circle hooks are easily detachable. You only have to loop the hook around and out of the incision.

According to one study, fish caught by circle hooks had a 50% more chance to survive than fish caught by J-shaped hooks.

Hook Size

As a rule of thumb, the bigger the hook size, the less likely fish will get gut-hooked. Depending on the type of fish you’re looking to catch, use slightly bigger hooks. This way the fish won’t be able to swallow it.

It’s also much preferable to use long-shanked hooks. While small-shanked hooks are better for holding bait, you may find it much easier to grab the long shank and move it as you need. 

In Conclusion

Gut-hooked fish can sustain serious injuries, including disease transmission, infection, and bleeding. They could also starve due to impaired feeding ability. Therefore, knowing how to unhook a gut-hooked fish quickly without causing further damage is essential for any angler.

Nevertheless, with efficient unhooking and proper aftercare, gut-hooked fish have higher chances of surviving after being released. To keep from potentially hurting a fish, try to use large-sized, barbless, or circle hooks.

We hope you found this guide on how to unhook a gut-hooked fish useful.

Happy Hunting!

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