Remove The Hook Or Cut The Line?

     Last summer while messing about in my plastic boat I had a hit on my topwater fly.  I set the hook and dragged an angry largemouth bass to the side of my kayak.  Lifting him out of the water I noticed that he'd taken the fly really deep into the esophagus.  While trying my best to dislodge the hook he started to bleed.  Quickly placing the fish back in the water I reviewed my options.  Should I keep trying to remove the hook?  Maybe I should just cut the line?  What was best for the fish?  If I did cut the line would he even survive?  The questions kept rolling through my brain.  I had no idea what the best plan of attack was to save the fish.  I decided to remove the hook and let him go.  It was a messy job to say the least...I'm guessing he died.  These kinds of situations happen to every angler if you fish long enough.  I'm sure it's probably happened to you too.  So what's the answer?  Cut the line or remove the hook?
     Recently while reading the latest issue of International Angler Magazine I came across an article about this very topic.  It references a 2009 research study done by a group of scientists at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON, Canada.  The researchers tested mortality rates in bluegills that were deeply hooked (past the gullet).  What they found surprised me to say the least.  Here's a quick look at the numbers.

  • 33% of fish died when the hook was removed within 48 hours.
  • 8% of fish that survived 48 hours died within 10 days of the hook being removed.
     These numbers kind of shocked me.  That's a lot of dead bluegills all because time was taken to remove the hook.  Makes me feel kind of bad when I think back at all the bluegills I've tossed back into local lakes that were bleeding after I fought to free to the hook.  So what happened to the fish that had the line cut and the hook left inside the fish?  Here's the short explanation of those numbers.

  • 12.5% of fish died when the line was cut after 48 hours.
  • 45.5% of fish that survived the 48 hours were able to expel the hook on their own within 10 days.
  • 71.4% of the fish that expelled the hook returned to normal feeding behavior.
     As you can see from this study cutting the line is definitely the better option.  So would the same thing work for bass?  No idea, I do know though that the numbers seem to lean towards a much better survival rate if you just cut the line and let nature do it's thing.  I'm gonna keep this in mind the next time I deeply hook a fish.  What do you do when when you hook a fish to deep?  Drop me a comment below.  If you're curious about the rest of the study, follow the link here.
Much easier if you hook'em in the lips.  It makes for a nice guilt free release.
     Tight Lines.

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