Those of you who listen to Radio WaterLine (7 to 9 a.m. Saturdays on KIX Country 92.9 FM, or anytime at RadioWaterLine.com) are familiar with Googan Man. For those no listening, Googan Man is a Southwest Florida on-the-water superhero. Whenever someone is about to make a googan mistake, Goober Man — I mean, Googan Man (inside joke) — shows up to try steering them down a better path.
Googan Man was born out of my frustration with people making the same mistakes over and over and over again. One of the great joys of my position here at WaterLine is that I get to contribute to the education of thousands of local anglers. It’s also a millstone around my neck, because while I truly love teaching and making a difference, I realize that there are always going to be more people showing up to make the same old mistakes.
Among the things people get wrong most frequently is fish handling. I see it all: Fish wrapped in slime-removing towels, fish gaffed through the body, fish dangled by just the lower lip, fish so dry their scales are starting to flake off, fish laid on dry hot sand. These are all terrible things to do to a fish that’s going to be released.
When you put a towel on a fish, you’re going to remove slime. You’re doing it because you don’t want to get your hands slimy. I understand — but what you don’t get is how vital that fish’s slime is to its health. To a fish, that slime is like your outer layers of skin. Removing it is the equivalent of a deep scrape on your skin.
Over a small area, that’s OK. You’ll live. But if you get deep scrapes over half your body, you have a real problem. You’re likely to get an infection, which might be fatal if untreated. Fish have no doctors to go to, and only one antibiotic: Their slime coat!
If you can’t stand the slime, wear plastic gloves. Wet them before you handle the fish. Hold on good — it’s going to be slick, and dropped fish are even worse off than those with slime scraped off.
Gaffs are strictly for killing fish. Don’t make more holes in fish that are going back. A deep puncture wound is highly likely to eventually kill the fish. Gaffing in the gills will do the same but faster. Lip-gaffing, which used to be common with tarpon but has thankfully mostly disappeared, causes injuries not from the little hole but from the unnatural angles the fish can be forced into and the weight of its body held by the head.
Hanging by the lower lip kills fish insidiously. They swim away fine and then die when no one is watching. The damage is to the tendons in the throat, and it’s worst with fish that catch prey by suction feeding. Snook are the prime example here.
A big, heavy snook will end up with stretched or torn tendons every time. Stretched tendons cause the mouth to open more slowly, so more prey escapes. Torn tendons can prevent suction feeding entirely. Ever caught a snook that was really skinny while the rest were fat and sassy? Often that’s the result of tendon damage. And it’s so easy to prevent: One hand on the jaw, the other under the belly — from the moment the fish comes out of the water until the moment it goes back in.
Dry fish have the same problem as deslimed fish, plus an extra one, which is suffocation. A redfish can’t breathe air any more than you can breathe water. You want photos. I get it. Take a photo, put the fish back in the water. Give it 30 seconds. Pull it out again, take another pic. Your photos look better with water running off the fish anyway.
For those of you who are tired of reading variations on this theme, trust me when I say I’m tired of writing it. But this is the burden of Googan Man: He will always live among googans, who he will always try to help. And he will never, ever run out of them.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.