How to practise salmon catch and release

Salmon being released

Using tackle

Use small, barbless hooks, singles or doubles. They do less damage and unhooking is quicker.

It’s illegal to use large hooks.

  • On flies with a hook gape greater than 7mm, hooks are restricted to singles or doubles
  • No treble or double hooks are permitted on lures used for spinning
  • Spinners and spoons can have only one single hook with a gape of 13mm or less
  • Plugs can have a maximum of three single hooks, each with a gape of 13mm or less
  • Shrimp and prawn fishing for salmon is allowed from the 1st September on some rivers with the use of a barbless, single treble hook with a gape of less than 7mm.

Always use as strong a leader or line as possible. This will ensure the fish can be brought to the net quickly and safely.


Salmon often take Flying Cs deep and more than 10% die. Fitting a barbless single will help but it’s better to use other lures, with hooks altered, or to fly fish.

Single ‘in-line’ barbless or de-barbed hooks with the barb crushed reduce the chances of damaging fish.

The hooks on lures such as plugs can be effectively changed for ‘in-line’ single hooks reducing the risks associated with treble hooks.

In-line hooks on lure

Plan ahead

Before fishing a pool, always identify where a fish can be safely landed without risk of damage on rocks or stones.

If fishing alone, take a net.

Traditional large mesh salmon nets can cause split fins and tails.

Have long-nosed forceps or a similar tool close to hand for prompt hook removal.

If you want a photo of your salmon before release, have your camera ready on a neck lanyard, for example.

Playing fish

Fish should be played quickly and as firmly as possible so that they can be released before becoming too exhausted.

Landing fish

We urge you not to lift the fish out of the water by any means if it is at all possible. At the very least, never lift your salmon from the water by its tail, or gill cover - you will cause internal damage.

Avoid taking them onto the bank or dragging them over stones or gravel.

Knotless mesh is a legal requirement.

Use a soft, knotless net with small mesh size with a shallow, wide bottom to allow the fish to lie flat. 

Large mesh can cause split tails:

Salmon with split tail

Fishing from boats

If you are fishing from a boat, where convenient, take the boat to the shore to land the fish.

If the fish is landed in a boat, ensure that the fish is laid on a flat, wet surface for unhooking. A soaking wet towel or unhooking mat is ideal for this purpose.

Laying the fish upside down will often calm it for unhooking. Fish produce most of their energy from their tails, and so holding down the tail on a flat surface will keep a fish still.

Unhooking and recovery

Keep the fish in the water at all times. 

When the fish is quiet, remove the hook carefully and promptly with forceps.

It should be allowed to recover and returned in steady clean water, but not in a fast flow.

Recovery may take some time.

If the fish is deep-hooked, particularly in the gills, it may not be possible to remove the hook. Snip the line close to the hook. This will cause less harm to the fish than removing it.

As an additional precaution, it is wise not to fish at all during extended periods of hot weather.

Recording your catch

Only lift the fish from the water for the minimum time necessary.


Keep the fish in or briefly just above the water. Support the fish gently under the belly and loosely hold the wrist of the tail.


If possible, use a weigh net, or scales hooked on to a conventional net.


Measure in the water.

Take a tape measure or mark up your wading staff or the butt section of your rod as an easy indicator.

Weight can be estimated from length.

Fish should be measured from nose to the fork of the tail.

If you have a fish that does not recover, leave it in the river and report it to us as soon as possible on 0300 065 3000.

Length (ins) 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33
Weight (lbs) 5 6 6.5 7.5 8.25 9.25 10.5 12 13 14.25


Length (ins) 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42
Weight (lbs) 16 17 19 20.75 22.5 24.75 26.75 29 31
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