I'm afraid I killed a nice bass this week trying to get a swallowed hook out. After working on it for about 5 minutes I just cut the line and released it but it just floated belly up. I'm just wondering what others do to get the hooks out or do you just cut and release to minimumize damage to fish.
Although it was long ago and not so far away, I did my own study on the mortality rates of two different groups of deeply hooked bass. I was working for a place that no longer exists in its previous form, "The Lakes of Danbury." We had been operating the thing for maybe a year (back in the 80's) and I'd seen a few large bass wash up dead. We were quick to write it off as "unavoidable fishing mortality" but I was thinking about the attrition rates and comparing to replenishment (especially of larger specimens) rates. It wasn't a good picture. So...and I posted this before;
I set up a study where several of my members would keep in an oxygenated livewell and bring in at the end of the session their deeply hooked fish (fish where the hook was easily removed were not included in the study). The fish were placed into two separate raceways for keeping.
One raceway received fish that no matter how difficult, and with several differing approaches, the hook was removed immediately by the fisherman.
The other raceway received fish that as close to the hook as possible, the line had been cut and hook left in place in the fish.
After two weeks, I learned several things, one of which was very surprising. First, about 80% of deeply hooked bass that had the hook removed by the fisherman, died in about one two five days. In contrast, about 80% of the bass with the hook left in were still alive after two weeks.
Number one conclusion was to make a rule about deeply hooked fish (alternatively a rule for barbless hooks on soft baits) that the hook should be left in and the bass released.
The surprising thing I learned was about the fish the hook had been left in. With a few notable exceptions, almost all the hooks came out of the fish in one to five days and were laying on the bottom of the raceway. Not a one was "rusty." So I began to watch newly placed specimens closely to figure out what was happening, I could not conceive of the hooks "passing" trough.
What happened was the place where the hook was embedded festered up and rotted away (even if in the stomach or intestines), allowing the hook (with barb) to just fall out of the rotted spot, which then healed back over. A few exceptions included fish that died with the hook in, a fish the hook actually came out of the side of the fish, and one where the hook made it as far as the vent and got stuck there.