There are several tools on the market these days that help anglers safely release rockfish, snapper and grouper back to the bottom without injuring the fish. But a lot of these tools are expensive and hard to use.
The change in depth when reeling in a fish from the deep can cause a fish’s eyes to bulge and its swim bladder to expand and often stick out of the fish’s mouth. The idea is to get the fish back to the depths quickly to relieve the pressure for a safe release. Venting fish with a knife or needle has proven more harmful than helpful as many people puncture a fish’s internal organs and do other damage.
Over the years I’ve been using this simple technique to release both rockfish and black sea bass, and it won’t cost you more than a few bucks to set up.
Tie the mainline to an upside down J hook (size 4/0). Crimp the barb down with a pair of pliers. Attach the hook to the line by tying a knot in the middle of the bend, as pictured in the diagram. You can use a Uni-Knot.
Tie a small piece of 50-pound mono, approximately 2 feet, to the upside down hook through the eye of the hook and attach a 2-pound weight to the bottom.
To release the fish, place the upside-down hook into the upper lip of the fish you plan to release. Hook the fish from the outside. The weight will be situated in front of the fish’s mouth.
Put the reel in free-spool and sink the fish slowly using your thumb on the spool. The weight will carry the fish to a comfortable depth. This will decompress the fish.
Once the fish is safely sunk out, pull up sharply on the rig and the hook will easily release from the upper lip. Release complete.