Do you constantly struggle to unhook catfish? Does the thought of handling catfish scare you because you’re afraid of getting punctured by one of their sharp spines? In this tutorial, you will learn how to unhook a catfish like a seasoned angler. Catfish have tough, thick, leather-like skin that makes it more challenging to remove your hook from them, especially when using a circle hook.

Let’s get started by looking at where you shouldn’t touch a catfish.

Watch Out for Those Spines!

A man holding a catfish against a dark background.

Knowing how to handle catfish correctly while you’re unhooking them will keep you from getting hurt! For instance, a catfish has three pointy spines located on the edges of its dorsal and pectoral fins. Catfish lock out their sharp spines as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened by a predator, and if they puncture you, it can cause severe discomfort and inflammation. Therefore, you want to try your best to avoid touching their spines when you’re handling catfish.

Why Are Circle Hooks Harder to Remove Than Other Hooks?

Circle hooks are a popular choice amongst the catfishing world for two reasons: it reduces the mortality rate of catfish, and you’re more likely to hook more fish.

Additionally, the circle hooks’ design entails the shank, bend, and the point being aligned, with the hook point turned perpendicular to the shank. So, because of this design, there’s a specific technique you have to use to remove the hook from the fish’s lip.

What Should You Do If You Gut Hook Your Fish?

After reeling your fish in, If you find your catfish has swallowed your hook, it is best to cut your line as short as you can and leave the hook in the fish. Leaving the hook in the catfish’s stomach puts the fish under less harm and stress. Additionally, it ultimately lengthens the catfish’s life expectancy, and you are less likely to pop its guts.

How Do You Know If You’ve Popped the Fish’s Guts?

Now, this will sound gross, but if you’ve popped the fish’s guts, you would be able to tell immediately by smelling the inside of the catfish’s mouth. For example, if the inside of its mouth smells like cow pie on a hot summer’s day, then you know you definitely popped the fish’s guts.

What Tools You’ll Need to Unhook a Catfish

Here is what you will need to unhook a catfish:

How to Unhook a Catfish

Man sitting in a boat on a lake, cutting the line of a caught catfish.

Step One: Grab the Catfish Behind Its Dorsal and Pectoral Spines

After reeling in your catfish, pick it up by grasping behind its three front spines, located on the edges of its dorsal and pectoral fins. You can perform this hold either over the top of the catfish or under its belly, whichever is most comfortable for you.

Alternatively, if the catfish is over 30-pounds or too heavy to hold with just one hand, then you can just lay it on the ground or boat floor and prop its head up by picking it up by its gills or lipping it. If you decide to lip your catfish, I recommend wearing fishing gloves to avoid any injuries to your hand because the inside of their mouth is as abrasive as sandpaper.

Step Two: Break Out Your Fishing Pliers

Next, grab your fishing pliers with your free hand, and get ready to unhook this fish.

Step Three: Pinch the Eye of the Hook with Your Fishing Pliers

Now, with your trusty fishing pliers, grab hold of the eye of the hook.

Step Four: Roll the Eye of the Hook Towards the Point

After you get a good grip of the eye with your pliers, roll the hook’s eye towards the hook’s point.

Step Five: Twist and Pull the Hook

Then, as your hook starts to yank the fish’s mouth, twist the hook’s point and pull it out of the catfish’s lip.

Step Six: Keep or Release Your Fish

Lastly, it is time to keep or release your fish. No matter the size of the catfish, many people on social media will always comment, saying, “You should have released that beauty.” However, don’t let these kinds of comments shame you from keeping your catfish, as long as it meets your State’s guidelines.

On the contrary, if you decide to release your catfish, make sure to practice proper catch and release techniques.

Don’t Forget to Burp Your Catfish!

Therefore, if you are fishing deep waters and decide to release your fish, always make sure to burp it before letting it go. Burping your fish will help remove the gas from its stomach and allow their bodies to reacclimate to the water. You may even need to grab the catfish by the tail and gently swoosh it in the water to help bring oxygen into its gills.

Did this article help you learn how to remove a hook from a catfish? Do you have any questions about unhooking catfish? Let us know in the comments below. Was this article beneficial to you? Consider sharing it with your friends.

Stay safe and tight lines!