Learning how to properly release a salmon is vital in the recovery of wild fish populations.

Anglers’ guide to releasing salmon properly

By learning to correctly release salmon, anglers can do their part toward the recovery of Washington’s wild fish populations


Selective fisheries for hatchery-produced salmon and catch-and-release fisheries are increasingly important to providing recreational fishing opportunities around Washington.

To ensure these salmon fisheries are successful long-term, it is vital that anglers do their part to comply with all regulations, especially how to properly release unmarked, sublegal (undersized) and out-of-season fish to improve their survival.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) hatcheries use state-of-the-art facilities and technology to mark millions of juvenile salmon each year. Hatchery crews do this by clipping the adipose fin (a small fatty fin directly behind the dorsal fin) to properly identify a hatchery salmon. This supports the harvest of hatchery fish while minimizing impacts to wild salmon and maintaining our commitments to the recovery of natural populations.

Please continue to be careful in releasing salmon — they are your fishing future!

Learn more with our video or in the tips outlined below.

Here are important tips on how to properly release salmon:

  • Minimize handling by leaving fish in the water.
  • Be quick when handling a fish. This helps reduce stress and exhaustion on fish. Keep in mind a tired fish takes longer to recover!
  • Try to avoid using a landing net — but if you must, use a soft, knotless net or a rubber mesh net. Knotless nets are required in fly-fishing-only areas and freshwater areas with selective gear rules.
  • Use a hook remover (dehooker) when hooks are embedded in the mouth or jaw. Alternative hook removers are needle nosed pliers or hemostats. You can also make your own dehooker by buying a wooden dowel (measuring 22 inches long, which is the minimum size in most Chinook fisheries and can be used to determine the length of a fish) and a small opened-ended brass plated screw-in cup hook.
  • If a fish has swallowed the hook, cut the leader as close to the hook as possible.

Handling your catch:

· Keep the fish wet and calm.

· Provide proper support. If you don’t have a landing net, cradle the fish gently with one hand beneath the belly.

· Use wet hands or nitrile “surgeon-style” gloves to handle fish. Fish have a protective mucus layer and dry hands can remove that layer- posing more harm to the fish.

· Treat the fish gently, don’t squeeze the fish and avoid holding the fish by the gills.

· Work quickly and calmly.

· Let the fish recover before releasing it. Hold the fish underwater, in an upright position or secured in the landing net. Look for gills opening and closing. You can face the fish into the current allowing oxygenated water to pass gently over the gills.

· Consider moving the fish to calmer water where it can recover and swim away.

Note: In Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands, Hood Canal and Puget Sound (Marine Areas 5 to 13), it is illegal to bring a wild salmon or salmon species that are unlawful to retain aboard a vessel. “Aboard a vessel” is defined as inside the upper edge of the side of a boat known as the gunwale. In Grays Harbor (Marine Area 2–2), it is unlawful to totally remove salmon from the water if it is illegal to retain those fish, except anglers fishing from boats 30 foot or longer are exempt.

Visit the WDFW YouTube webpage for a video on safe salmon handling and the WDFW salmon fishing basics webpage for more information.

Stay safe and enjoy the wonderful resources and experiences that Washington state fishing opportunities can offer. And please contact WDFW law enforcement to report any witnessed violations of fish and handling or retention rules on the WILDCOMM Communications Center at WILDCOMM@dfw.wa.gov or 360–902–2936 Option 1.



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.