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With ecology a prime factor now, many have asked, "What is being done to preserve our fishing?" On a recent business/pleasure trip to Costa Rica I took the time to show how Costa Rica is one of the pioneers in preserving big game fishing. With long time friend, Richard Krug of Costa Rica Fishing Charters, and Costa Rica Real Estate  we got away from our busy schedules. When watching the video, besides the excitement of fishing,  notice how the captain, Bill Gannon directs his attention to the care of the sailfish. Small details like 1) how the  mat is moved around the rail used to protect the billfish when it comes aboard,  2) keeping another set of eyes for the experience deckhand, such as watching to make sure the lines don't get tangled,  3)  how quicky the circle hook is removed, to assure no harm is made to the sailfish before, during, and after the angler's trophy picture is why Costa Rica is #1 in catch and release.

Starting in the early 80s, sport fishing captains that moved to Costa Rica started to revolutionize the idea of substituting the standard J hook to that of a Circle Hook. The main problem with a "J" hook is, it usually allows the fish to swallow the bait (or gut hooked) and causes a lot of trauma to the fish. Evidence of this is seen when  fish jumped with a halo of misty blood around it as it coughs blood or pieces of its stomach. Years ago this was 'somewhat acceptable' if you're going to keep the fish. However, that has changed as long-term ecology became more of a concern; what if you intend to release the fish? Or what if the hook rips from the fish's mouth (spitting the hook) or the line snaps with a jig inside, no doubt over time the billfish would die!

Who started the practice of fishing with humane concerns or Catch and Release in Costa Rica? There is an array of captains who claim they did, but captains like Randy Wilson (Tamarindo) captain of the Talking Fish, and Bill Gannon (Quepos) Captain of the Unique, who came to Costa Rica in the late 70s extensively helped conserve the game fish in Costa Rica by developing their own techniques and lures in the 80's.  These have been refined over the years to ensure proper handling of sailfish and marlin during hookup, fight and most importantly, started to master the skill of catch and release.

It was also quickly discovered that circle hooks also radically reduced incidences of foul-hooked fish another common occurrence when trolling.  The J hook, will often hook the fish elsewhere on the body, such as on the shoulder, dorsal fin, face (the eye socket is common area) or on the belly. The hook snags practically anywhere and anything. Many an angler have requiring surgery to remove the hook, and many have lost an eye. The design of the circle hook with the semi-protected point makes it less prone to damage the fish or cause injury to an angler if the fish spits the hook.

In a recent comparison study that was conducted in Itapúa, Guatemala, circle vs. J-hooks with both live and dead bait on sailfish,  a total of 360 Pacific sailfish were caught with 235 on circle hooks and 125 on J-hooks.  Only one sailfish was foul hooked using circle hooks.  Sailfish caught on "J" hooks are 21 times more likely to suffer hook-related bleeding than those caught on circle hooks. Circle hooks reduced the mortality rate of bill fish by 98%.

Under presser to preserve the sport fishing industry, the Costa Rican Institute of Fish and Aquaculture passed a bill requiring sport anglers to use circle hooks when bill fishing.

Costa Rica was the first country in the world to adopt and enforce such a regulation, even the U.S. does not  require their sports fishers to catch and release.

With the circle hook, the angler drops the bait back to the fish for a short count, keeping the rod pointed at the fish. The fish is allowed to start swallowing the bait. The drag is then smoothly set, but NO motion is made to set the hook preventing damage.  The ONLY way the circle hook can work is if it travels SLOWLY. Once the drag is set, the forward motion of the boat will begin to pull the bait out of the fish. If the bait is moving slowly, the circle hook will pivot at the corner of the mouth and hook the fish there. Unlike in the past when a few quick jerks of the rod set the hook, with a circle hook, any over movement of the rod tip or reel will pull the bait out too fast for the hook to pivot and place.

In April, 2008, Americana Sportsfishing owner, Richard Krug’s with two high school fishing buddies Kip Ives (Richards webmaster) Dean Burriston, and one of Richard's Costa Rica buddies, Dan Corcoran (retired Miami firefighter)  fished a day on the Tranquilo II with Captain Francisco Barrantes, and a day with Bill Gannon on the Unique, both boats out of Quepos.  The video clearly shows not only the excitement of sport fishing with long time [teasing] friends, but how Catch and Release has become an important factor in conserving Costa Rica sports fishing industry.

Toward the end of the video, the deck hand lays out a mat on the boats rail (this helps protect the fish when it is pulled onboard) and with wet gloves (again to prevent damage) removes the circle hook with pliers, while the boat is still moving. Keeping the boat moving with the bill of the fish toward the bow helps fill the lungs of the fish with fresh oxygen. During this the angler takes position for a picture of his trophy. Once the deck hand feels the fish is revitalized,  it is quickly hoisted into the boat. After pictures are taken, the billfish is quickly placed into the water; again the captain speeds up the boat to assure oxygen to the fish. Finally, the fish is released unharmed to again taunt the next angler.

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