How to Save a Gut Hooked Fish

The dilemma is real. You just caught an undersized fish and the hook is embedded deeply down its throat. You know that if you grab the hook with pliers and pull that hook out this fish will probably die. But worse in most locations if you are caught releasing a belly up fish you could be fined for "wanton" waste of wildlife. But if you keep an undersized fish, well that's another problem because you could also receive a big fine if you are stopped by a game warden. You are between a rock and a hard place!

Garden Island Lodge American Plan angler releasing a walleye boatside.

Don't Make This Mistake!

Did you also know that cutting the line and leaving the hook in the gullet is a terrible idea. In the past we were told that the hooks rusted out in a few days and the fish would survive. Nothing could be further from the truth! Studies at the University of Maryland that were done in the 70's showed that nearly all gut hooked fish that were released using non-plated rusting high carbon steel hooks died. Not from location of the hook but from the toxins released during the slow rusting process. Strangely enough when they did this same experiment leaving stainless steel hooks in the gullet those fish had a 99% survival rate. Cutting off and leaving the hooks is no longer an option if you want your released fish to survive.

Before I show you a solution to this gut hooked problem I wanted to tell you a strange but true story. One morning I was fishing a Canadian Shield lake for smallmouth bass using a 5 inch plastic worm rigged weedless with a 3/0 red worm hook which I had bent the barb over to the side in an experiment testing hook up ratios. I had a really hard strike off the side of a large boulder which resulted in a short fight and a disappointing broken line. The next morning I was casting to that exact same spot with the exact same weedless rigged worm and hook rig and bam, I caught a big fat four pound smallmouth. Hard to believe as it was that hungry smallmouth still had my hook from the previous day deeply lodged down his gullet with about six inches of the broken line attached! I weaved the line out the gill to maneuver the hook and was able to release that smallmouth none the worse for his experience.

Fortunately there is an answer to the gut hook dilemma. Once you have learned this 99% effective method for removing the hook from a gut hooked fish you should teach it to your friends. It's simple to learn and you will use it a lot once you see how effective it is at saving the life of the fish.

1. First check out where the hook is located. Usually it will have some part of the hook eye visible. If the hook isn't visible pull the line slightly and see if the eye can become visible.

Illustration of guy hooked fish.

2. Cut the line leaving about 10 inches of line still attached to the hook. Feed the 10 inch length of line through the gills so that it is hanging out and then pull the line down the side of the fish to reposition the hook with the bend facing out instead of the eye.

Illustration of guy hooked fish.

3. Now you will be able to use your hook removal pliers to grab the hook by its bend and pull it out.

Illustration of guy hooked fish.

4. You will be surprised at how quickly and easily this can be completed and how many fish (and hooks) you can save.

Illustration of guy hooked fish.
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