Handling and Releasing Trout and Salmon

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March 28th, 2022

The Lake Trout and Salmon are both of the more popular species that anglers pursue in Superior Country. Lake Trout can grow to a large size, sometimes 30 pounds or more. They frequent the colder, deeper inland lakes as well as the huge bodies of water such as Lake Nipigon and Lake Superior. They thrive in the many cold-water lakes in Superior Country.

Handling Lake Trout

Chinook Salmon are found in Lake Superior and were introduced in the 1950s. These transplants form the west coast have taken well to the cold water of Superior and are naturalized throughout the Great Lakes. Chinook are big, brawny fish and have a lot of fans. Most Salmon are caught in Lake Superior by anglers trolling spoons off downriggers or Dipsey Divers that take the lure down to a specific depth. In the late summer and fall, Salmon run up rivers and larger streams along the coast of Superior and the other Great Lakes. These fish start to lose the silver sheen they carry in the big water and turn dark. Salmon can still provide good sport to anglers in the rivers but can get fickle about biting.

Handling Salmon

Here are some thoughts on handling and potentially releasing both Trout and Salmon.

Lake Trout

Lake Trout are a tricky fish to handle for a couple of reasons. As mentioned, they can grow to a large size and handling big trout is always a challenge. Lake Trout also tend to be found in deep water and bringing a fish from the depths, into sometimes much warmer surface water can create stress. Lake Trout also tend to roll in a net, so if you have nylon mesh or some other easily snarled material it is a disaster waiting to happen. It is worth the money to buy a large size, rubberized mesh net for landing them. There is no worse scenario for angler or fish than getting a big laker entombed in nylon mesh.

When Lake Trout are caught in deep water, they can also get what is called Barotrauma. This is a condition seen in many fish caught in waters greater than 50 feet. It is caused by expansion of gases in the swim bladder. Signs of barotrauma include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bulging eyes and bloated belly. Lake Trout that have these symptoms will be difficult to release. However, Lake Trout (and salmon) have a swim bladder that is connected to internal organs. Because of this, they have an ability to relieve pressure from their body by burping. When you play a Lake Trout, you will often see bubbles coming up before you see the fish. It is worth noting that if Lake Trout are caught in extremely deep water over 100 feet, they may still suffer barotrauma and not be releasable. Playing a Lake Trout gradually to the surface will help it release bubbles and avoid barotrauma.

Handling Lake Trout

Taking a fish from cold, deep water and landing it in warm water also creates stress. In this situation, handle the Trout you don’t want to keep as little as possible and release it with what is often called the “torpedo” method. That is send the fish head-first into the water so it can start swimming straight down. The problem with holding a lake trout horizontal in warm water and letting it revive is it will become even more stressed out. Lake Trout are temperature and the faster it gets to colder water the more liable it is to recover.

One more point worth noting is Lake Trout have a tendency to be bleeders. That includes bleeding from the mouth where they have been hooked. Carefully monitor how much a fish is bleeding. Even though a mouth bleeder should be releasable, if it loses too much blood before release, it will be stressed and weakened. Move fast to get the fish back in the water. Lake Trout that are to be harvested should be killed and put on ice as soon as possible. Lake Trout have soft, delicate flesh, and so not do well roasting in the sun on a deck or in a live well with 70 f. water.

Chinook Salmon

I will concede up front that many people choose not to release Salmon. They are good to eat, short lived and spawn and die. In other words, a good candidate for the table. Yet there are situations in which you may want to release the Salmon safely, whether because the limit is already filled, or it is a small fish. You may also just want to let it go because they are pretty.

Chinook Salmon

Chinook can be a difficult fish to release. They fight hard and are often exhausted when they come to the net. They do not do well with being handled. So, if you want to release some Salmon, get them back in the water as quickly as possible.  You should also use a rubberized mesh for Salmon, as they can lose tons of scales in a nylon mesh net, which is not good for them. In cold water, hold the fish and let it breathe on its own. When it is ready to go, it will swim. In warmer surface water, the “torpedo” release, is your best bet.

Both Lake Trout and Chinook Salmon will be easier to handle with a wet cotton glove. Grip the fish at the wrist of the tail, use your other hand to hold the fish under the belly. Even fish being kept will benefit from the glove as they will not slip from grasp easily and can be managed much more easily.

Lake Trout and Chinook Salmon are prized game fish that deserve respect and careful handling. Conserving fish now will ensure the resource exists well into the future.