When releasing reef fish, using the right tool with the right technique makes a difference

FWC Press Release
June 23, 2022

If you’re fishing for reef fish this season, be sure to look for signs of barotrauma and be prepared to act. Barotrauma, or injuries caused by pressure changes, occur when fish are rapidly brought to the surface from depths 50 feet or greater. Signs of barotrauma include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bloated belly, distended intestines and bulging eyes. These injuries can be fatal to the fish unless intervention occurs through the use of descending devices or venting tools.

Signs of barotrauma include bloated belly, distended intestines, stomach coming out of the mouth and bulging eyes. Photos by Return ‘Em Right.

With the right tool and the right technique, all anglers should properly descend or vent a fish and give them a better chance at survival. When a fish survives release, it has another opportunity to reproduce and grow the population, leading to more fishing opportunities in the future.

Descending devices are tools with weights that attach to a fish and help take the fish back to the appropriate depth. There are various types of descending devices but the most common are lip clamps, inverted hooks and fish elevators. It is important to find the device that works best for you.

Before you go fishing, be sure to have your selected descending device ready for use. To properly descend a fish with a lip clamp or inverted hook, attach the descending device and weights to a heavy-duty rod and reel that is designated for descending or use a rope to handline the device and weights down and back up. A good goal is to use 1 pound of weight for every 5 pounds of fish being descended. Use a combination of loop knots, swivels, snaps, clips, etc. to attach the weights and device to your line. Be able to quickly and easily add or remove weights as needed, based on the size of the fish being descended and the water conditions. Unless you use a pressure-sensor device that releases fish automatically, you’ll need to jig your device to release the fish once the weights have brought it back down to depth.

To descend a fish with a fish elevator, simply send down the fish in a weighted container using a rope. This weighted container could be a crate, box or net that is turned upside down with an open top, so the fish can swim out on its own when it is returned to the bottom. 

For short video tutorials on different types of descending devices, watch FWC’s Descending Devices playlist on YouTube.