Hints & Tips

Fish Care and Welfare

Whilst all the tips and advice below aren't necessarily C.D.A.S. rules, some are. Those that aren't are to give new and novice members alike a bit of guidance when fishing our club waters. There might even be a lesson or two for some of the long established club members.

Fish safety is imperative for the ongoing success of our club. Fish are expensive, they are also fragile and are likely to be caught many times in their lifetime. It is very important that the experience of being hooked, landed, unhooked, weighed, photographed then returned is of minimal stress to the fish, and done as quickly and efficiently as possible. In short, we must look after our quarry to the best of our ability and do all we can to avoid damage to our stock.

There are many elements of fish safety and I will in turn try to cover as many as possible so you understand what is expected of you as an angler in CDAS. I will begin with ‘the basics’. The absolute minimum all anglers need to consider. I will then move on to some best practices, hints and tips that in my experience make the handling of fish as straightforward as possible. Some of you I am sure, will have suggestions that may improve upon the content here, all are welcome.

The Basics:

Where are you fishing?

Before you even wet a line you need to think about fish safety. You may have heard of a skill called ‘watercraft,’ a mystical ability to read the conditions in front of you to maximise your chances of catching your quarry. This comes with experience and your knowledge of the features of your chosen lake and indeed the habits of your chosen quarry. While watercraft is not something we will all have from the off, common sense is.   On occasions it may be tempting to cast a bait to what at best could be described as ‘adventurous’ positions, at worst, downright stupid. Think about where you want to fish? What is in front of you? What hazards are there in your swim? Lilly pads, weed, reeds, overhanging branches, islands or other obstructions are all present at CDAS. Yes, there is a high probability you will get the take you are after if you place your bait six inches off those snags or right up against that submerged tree. The question you must ask yourself is what if?  What if I do hook a fish here? Can I land it safely? How quickly could it make it to the sanctuary of, a lilly bed, weed bed, snags.  What about the darkness? Could I see what I am doing to avoid a mishap?

If the answer to any of these is ‘don’t know’, ‘not sure’, ‘think it’ll be ok’ then STOP. Your first responsibility is to ensure you can safely land your quarry, the fish could possibly be left tethered. If you are not sure of what is in front of you, don’t fish there, find somewhere else. Simple.  The point I’m making is that you should think of fish welfare long before you hook one. Use your common sense.

Terminal tackle

There are books and books about safe rigs, end tackle, lead arrangements and so on. It is not my intention to tell you how to fish. That’s the satisfying part in our sport, figuring it out for yourself. Suffice to say though it is vital again to think ‘what if?’ ‘What if my mainline snaps?’ Will the components come apart so the carp is trailing the minimum amount of gear until it ejects the hook? Will the lead come off readily from the rig, either by correct use of a lead clip in a bolt rig situation? or does the hooklink separate from the mainline if on a helicopter or running lead without undue pressure so the lead is dumped safely? If you like inline lead arrangements, will the lead come off easily if the line snaps? If you are not sure, simply don’t cast out until you are’ If you are unsure how to use these safely, don’t, until you have read up, or been shown.

Leaders are a controversial issue. The principle of any leader, be it leadcore, tubing, or specially designed leaders is that it presents your end tackle safely and efficiently, but just as importantly, protects the fishes flanks from abrasion during the fight. Without some sort of ‘leader’ your mainline can cause damage to your quarry while under tension. The rules at CDAS may vary as to the actual leader that may be used so please refer to the rule book/notice boards for the latest info. Suffice to say, some sort of leader/tubing is an absolute must. The exception here is surface fishing. If you fish for carp on the surface it is recommended that you use lighter mainline and a ‘softer’ actioned rod to cope with the lighter gear used. This flexibility does help to prevent line damage.

Carp Care Equipment

The what’s:

Nets – Before you cast a bait you should always ensure that your landing net is set up, near to your rods and ready to go.  Nets should be of modern soft mesh and of a suitable size (check rule book), preferably with a micromesh bottom. This stops fins getting damaged when you lift your quarry from it’s habitat. It is a best practice to be able to take apart your net when you have landed a fish, some come with mechanisms to fold down to ease this process.

Unhooking mats – You must have one, end of story. Moreover it must be ‘adequately padded’ and of defined minimum dimensions. In water, the bulk of the fish is supported by water. Out of water it is vulnerable to internal injury. CDAS is a series of gravel pits. The ground is hard! Hard ground and fat carp should never meet, particularly at speed. Make sure your mat is up to the job. Polyball mats and carp cradles are coming down in price. Please do invest in a quality mat.

Weigh slings – Although not dictated in our rule book, a safety weigh sling is an essential part of carp care kit. The models with rigid arms are superior. Not only do they offer a safe way of weighing your prize, they are coated with fish friendly material and are excellent in returning your fish safely back to the lake after weighing etc. Do not attempt to carry your fish without one, if you drop it, it could die. The cost is around £20 and will last you for years.

A bucket - Simple thing, but a small bucket of lake water (not tap water) next to your mat will keep the fish wet, calm and prevent drying out. You can use it to wet your mat/sling which is important. By the way, they also look a lot better in photo’s after a quick soaking if you do have the fish of a lifetime!

Forceps/Disgorgers - It is unlikely if you are carp fishing that carp will have time to swallow a bait, such is the effectiveness of modern rigs. Most hookholds should be easily popped out by pushing from the eye of the hook in the opposite direction it went in. On some occasions the hook may be stubborn. It is vital that good forceps are to hand to grip and safely remove your hook. If you are in the unfortunate position of the hook being entangled in the net, if you can’t untangle quickly cut the net. Do NOT force the hook out. See below on safe lifting.

Antiseptic/Bonjela/Carp care kits - It is inevitable that every fish caught will have at least one wound – where the hook went in. It is also possible that you may catch fish that are damaged already, be it spawning, rubbing or poor angling. EVERY wound should be treated by antiseptic. Korda have brought out dedicated kits for mouth and body, some advocate bonjela. Klinik, by Kryston is also a long term favourite. A top tip here is to treat the fish as soon as it is unhooked. This gives time for the antiseptic to start to work while weighing, photographing before returning back to the water. Any wound, no matter how small, should be treated before returning.

The How’s and Some Tips

Be organised!

Once the fish is in the net don’t be in too much of a rush to pull your prize straight out. I know it’s a very exciting time, but just take a moment to ensure everything is ready and that all the items you need are already in place so that once the fish is lifted out of the water you don’t then need to keep running to and from your bivvy looking for various bits of paraphernalia! Scales/forceps/Klinik etc/torch should be next to your mat (I keep mine in my scales pouch), with the weigh sling on top ready. Bucket of water to the side. Just as importantly, know where your camera is, and have it ready to hand. Do not lift the fish out of the water until you are ready. It is better to leave your fish in the net, secured say by a peg in the margins, than have the fish on the mat, then turn around to find something in the bottom of your bag.

Get everything soaking wet, mat, sling must be wet, use some of your bucket!

The lift.

OK, so with everything in place you are ready to lift the net and have a look at your prize. However, do be VERY careful here, as you have to bear in mind that the fish is still hooked. More mouth damage probably occurs to fish when they are being lifted than at any other time so please, do be careful. If possible, take your net apart, ensure the line is slack so not pulling against the fish, make sure the fish is safe in the bottom of the net, the hook is not caught up, the fins are flush against the body and not sticking forward as this can seriously damage the fish. Some roll the net down, some say this is dangerous, as long as you are careful of your mainline making sure it is slack it should be ok to roll the net down a bit. The advantage is that you can lift with one hand above and one hand supporting the belly of the fish.


Once you have carefully transferred the fish from the water to your unhooking mat you should go about your business with care but with promptness. The idea is to keep the fish out of the water for the minimum amount of time necessary.  Carefully lay the fish down on your WET mat/sling. Your first job is to unhook the fish, some loose netting over the fishes eyes can calm it down. If it is lively, carefully lift it back up in the net, ensuring fins are flat to avoid slapping about on the mat until it has calmed down again. Don’t try to force the fish down, you can damage it. Now you need to unhook the fish. I find the easiest way is to first check where and how the hook has been set and then, manoeuvre it so that it comes out in exactly the same manner in which it went in. I position the eye and shank with my thumb and forefinger, then when the barb and angle of the shank is at exactly the same angle as when it went in, apply a small sharp jab of pressure on the eye of the hook and it will simply pop out. It’s a little tricky to put down on paper so if you are unsure about the best way to unhook a fish, go and have a look at an experienced carp angler with a fish on the bank and ask them to show you – that’s how I learnt. It’s a very simple process once you’ve learnt and takes just a second to do.  Once you have unhooked the fish, it’s a good time to perform a quick health check. Investigate both flanks of the fish and have a look at all the fins, tail and dorsal ridge to check for any damage or injuries. Also check the gill covers, head and also have a check inside the mouth. Next you then get the net out from under the fish for weighing in your sling.  On transferring the fish from net to sling, make sure you are not wearing anything that could damage the fish, like a ring with sharp edges or a set stone or a watch with a sharp strap.  If you have somebody with you get them to pull the net away while you lift the fish a couple of inches above the mat. A simple technique if you are alone is to flip the fish the right way up (on its belly) close to you on your mat, carefully place one arm of the net along the side of the fish away from you then lay the fish over again on its side off the net. Simply pull the net towards you and put to one side. Tip some water over the fish if you are delayed for any reason.


Use your sling and zip the sides up if applicable. Again ensure the fins are flat. Either have your scales zeroed with a wet sling before hand or set to zero then deduct the weight of the wet sling. Try to avoid weighing your prize in a net. It is not a safe thing to do and fins can be damaged. Unsurprisingly, your fish weighs the same 2 inches or two feet off the ground. Keep it as low as possible. After reading the weight, carefully lower back to the mat.


If you wish to have some photos taken, be as quick as possible. The camera gear should have been set up prior to lifting the fish from the water. Get your photographer organized.  You can do this while unhooking the fish, tell them how the camera works etc. If you are competent, then for self take photography have it all planned and practiced before. 

Make sure your hands are wet, that watches/rings that could cause damage are removed. Try to slide your hands under the fish and tip it upright. Use one hand to gently grab the pectoral fin away from you for grip, not under the chin as this stresses the spine, the other hand positioned around the anal fin area. Again this fin can be used for grip, but gently please. When lifting you should try not to hold the fish against your body as clothing can damage the skin of the fish and remove its protective membrane.  Lift the fish slowly but confidently over the mat and smile! If the fish tries to flip, it will normally tense fins first. Simply rock the fish back flat with the belly away from you and cradle as low as possible to the mat. If you need to, place the fish back down and lift up again in the sling to prevent flapping until it calms. More water can be tipped over the fish again, this can aid calming of the fish. Keep the fish on or over the mat!

Be sensible with the total amount of time the fish is out of the water, it needs to breathe! If there have been any delays, return the fish to water, in your net if needs be if it is the fish of a lifetime. If a fish has been out a long time perhaps think about forgetting the photo’s and get the fish back safely.

For more tips and advice on how to get the best out of your photos,
please refer to the photography page.

Returning your fish

Use the sling/net/mat to carry the fish back to water. Do not attempt to carry your fish back to the lake without it. A dropped fish is probably a dead fish. Slowly lower the fish back into the water and support it until it is ready to swim off, then open your sling/mat/net from under the fish. Some recover faster than others, so don’t just tip them out.

Once the fish has been returned it’s easy to get caught up in the moment but you just need to spend a few minutes getting everything sorted and ready for the next one! Give your landing net a quick rinse and place back by your rods, make sure the sling and mat are back where they should be and any implements used during unhooking, weighing and photographing are back in there rightful positions, that way, when the next fish comes along you are ready to repeat the process all over again with the minimum amount of fuss.


The last aspect of carp safety is our individual behaviour. We must be responsible, and fish responsibly, for example, do not leave your swim with your rods in, (you’ll get banned) Think about your fishing situation, i.e don’t fish with baitrunners on freespool next to snags. Make sure your bait is fit to be used, particles are properly prepared, boilies and pellets are fresh/within use by date. If you are challenged by a bailiff while fishing try to understand what you are being told and why. Arguments will get you nowhere. Likewise, as a member, you are required to report incidents that contravene our rules. This is not telling tales but managing ourselves in a responsible way. If you see a practice which is dangerous report it. Details are in your rule book.

There is a quote in our rule book which states

‘if common sense prevailed, none of this would be necessary’

I can’t help thinking a bit of education goes a long way too.

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