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What to Do if a Trout Swallows Your Hook

If you have been fishing long enough, then chances are you have posed the following question or some variation of it: “What kind of fisherman are you? Do you do catch-and-release or do you eat what you catch?” You also probably realize that there is a tremendous amount of ramifications for this question as well. Let’s just cut to the chase here: it really does open up a can of worms. However, as long as you ponder each question patiently, there is no reason why you shouldn’t get through it. However, one reason why you should ponder this question is because certain breeds that you try to catch are surprisingly powerful, to say the least. Indeed, here’s a big question for you…if you’re fishing for trout, and one of them swallows your hook, what do you do? That’s a good question, and if you are going to spend any amount of time fishing for trout, it’s one that you simply cannot ignore. Here are some things to ponder:

There are several different schools of thought regarding how to appropriately deal with this.

Losing your fishing hook in a trout can be a serious problem, especially if you are in an area that encourages catch-and-release. The biggest problem you are going to encounter is posed in the following question: “Will it harm the fish?” Some say yes, and some say no. First of all, let’s take a look at these two camps:

Camp #1: It will absolutely kill the fish, no doubt about it.

Those of us who are well-acquainted with catch-and-release will not be thrilled with this camp, simply because we have a strong preference not to kill what we catch. Part of the reason this camp believes this is because the hook will often impede the fish’s ability to digest food. Some also believe that because there is often a lot of blood present, it must be a painful problem for the trout.

Rainbow Trout
Angler Sheldon Enns (my son) with a rainbow trout at Pine Valley Utah.

Camp #2: It won’t kill the fish, and they will be able to go on their merry way.

Of course, there is the other end of the extreme, and this usually entails the belief that a trout swallowing a hook will do absolutely nothing to them whatsoever. It should go without saying that most of these people believe this simply because they have heard somewhere along the line that the hook will simply rust out and dissolve due to the trout’s strong stomach acids.

The short answer for both of these camps is that yes, there is a grain of truth for both of them. However, neither one of these camps is completely correct, so let’s break them down further. Let’s take a look at camp #1 first:

Will it kill the fish? Not necessarily. It actually depends on several other factors.

First of all, is the fish bleeding pretty profusely? In that case, you probably should go ahead and just keep the fish because it might die anyway. However, do be aware that blood can look much worse when it is mixed with water. If you have a more experienced angler with you, you probably should ask him or her. Additionally, if the hook is lodged in the gill, then you can usually release the fish. If it’s lodged in the stomach, you should consider just keeping the fish again.

Fishing for trout with powerbait? (My favorite way) Read this article too.

Can the fish just go on their merry way? Again, it’s a yes and no answer.

In some cases, the hook will indeed rust away, but it does depend on the composition of the hook. If it is made of thick metal or a plated hook, it might take a considerable amount of time for this to occur. However, if your hook is composed of thin wire or non-plated hooks, then yes, the trout’s stomach acids should take care of it.

Of course, now you are probably wondering just what to do about this dilemma. Indeed, what SHOULD you do if a fish swallows your hook? Here are some options:

Just mercy kill the fish.

Even if you catch-and-release type of angler, there are some people who will simply just kill this unlucky fish and then use it for bait for the future casts. However, the problem with this option is that unless you are really educated on what your hook is made of, you really can’t tell for sure if the fish would survive (and thrive) or not. Thus, some catch-and-release people don’t care for this option and think it’s the lazy way out.


Cut out the hook completely.

This solution can be a good one, but only if you know what you are doing. Generally, this option isn’t recommended for most anglers for a variety of reasons. First of all, you have to know just where the hook is lodged at in the fish. Is it in the gills? Then you’ve got a shot at cutting it out without harming them. Is it in the gut? If that is the case, then you have some serious problems and the fish is most likely going to die whether you try to cut it out or release him or whatever. If you decide to go this route, get ready for some pliers and a bit of a messy job. It’s not for the squeamish.

Cut off the line going to the hook.

In some cases, you can simply just leave the hook in the fish by cutting off the wire going to the fish. One example would be the gill hooked fish mentioned above. The fish can usually get by quite well and by the time the hook might cause them some problems because it has already been rusted out within their body.

Analyze the situation.

Again, this takes experience, but you should fully determine whether the hooked fish is gill hooked or gut hooked. As a reminder, a gill hooked fish is one that you can often release just fine; just cut your hook off as close as you can. A gut hooked fish is pretty much doomed and you will have no choice but to keep it.

Next time, just avoid the situation entirely.

There is no question that having a trout swallow your hook can be a bit of a dicey situation. However, besides the above tips and practices, another option would be to prevent this from ever happening again. Have you ever considered using circle hooks? There are a lot of trout anglers who swear by it, simply because the only thing a circle hook will do is simply pull out of the trout’s stomach and just hook them nice and neat in the corner of their mouth.

If you keep these things in mind, you should have a much easier time avoiding the unfortunate circumstance of having one of your fish swallow your hook!

Hey FISHMONGER – make sure to check out my FISHING RESOURCES page.

Darren Enns

For me, fishing is an enjoyable release from the pressures of life. It gets me out into nature and I love it!

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What to Do if a Trout Swallows Your Hook