In this blog, we will focus on unhooking mats, landing nets and baitrunners. This subject is a topic which is often misunderstood, and hopefully this blog will help to clarify why they are important as well as provide a few tips on how to use them.
The majority of lakes in the U.K. have rules regarding the size of unhooking mats permitted, with the large unhooking mats and landing nets of at least 42 inches required in order to protect the fish. The reason for these rules is that large carp can cost a lot of money, and you fees will not cover the cost of replacing the fish. If you catch a large carp using either a small mat or no mat at all, the fish could damage itself. We do not want to hurt the fish, so having the correct size mat will reduce the risk to the fish.
When a larger fish is hooked it may become stressed, which can lead to the fish’s death. If your unhooking mat is large enough to fold over the fish, do so and let the fish lie there for a couple of minutes in the dark. This will allow the fish to become calm, at which point you can open the mat, perhaps put a damp cloth over the fish’s eyes and then unhook the fish and pour some water over it. You can then take a photo and weight the fish before returning it to the water. I use my unhooking mat to slide the fish back into the water safely. If you see any blood coming from the fish’s mouth, you can use a good disinfectant and a cotton bud to treat the fish. Also if you spot any welts or sores on the fish, it is a good idea to treat them before returning the fish just to be on the safe side. Another tip is to put a pair of locking forceps on the handle of your mat so that you know exactly where they are when you need them.
Using the correct size landing net will again help to keep the fish safe, with many lakes insisting on a 42 inch carp net. I always set up two nets before I start fishing – one spoon net for silver fish and small carp and the 42 inch net for the bigger fish. Sometimes I will pack up at the end of the day having not used my 42 inch net at all, but at least it was there if I did hook into a larger fish.
Years ago we did not have baitrunner reels, so we used alternative methods to let an aggressive take from a fish to get hooked. You could open your bail arm so that the fish could take line, without losing your rod into the lake, but this could end with a ‘birds nest’, meaning you could not let your line out or get it back.
There were other ways of letting out the line, like using an elastic band with a loop of line so that the loop would pull before you lost your rod. My son once asked me in a rather smug way, “So how did you fish at night?” The answer was a mini hub-cap – you set up your rod with a mini hub-cap underneath, then put a clip of lead on your line and when the hub cap skates across the ground, you have a bite.
Nowadays we have baitrunner reels to replace these ‘improvised’ solutions. A switch on the back of the reel disconnects the main gears of the reel and allows the spool to run in free spool. When a fish takes the bait it can take line with little resistance. Your alarm will sound and as you pick up the rod and make a half turn of the handle, this will rein gauge the gears and you can play the fish on the front clutch of the reel, letting it take line if it needs to.
Unhooking mats, landing nets and baitrunners can help you to catch fish without damaging the fish itself, thus helping to ensure sustainable fishing at a recreational level. Whilst it is good practice to follow this advice even at lakes with more relaxed rules, it is nevertheless still a good idea to check the rules at a particular lake before fishing there for the first time. If you would like any further advice or demonstrations, please feel free to approach our teams in store who will be happy to help.
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