How to Release Bottomfish without Barotrauma Using a Fish Descender

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Written By Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler with more than 20 years of fishing experience and a writer whose work has been featured in magazines for over a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States. He also fishes for trout in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, Paddling Space, Man Can Outdoors, Alabama Outdoor News, and Bassmaster.


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Use a fish descender when releasing deep-water fish suffering from barotrauma, a condition caused by rapid pressure change. A descender helps safely return the fish to its original depth, allowing its swim bladder to recompress, reducing injury and increasing survival rates. It’s essential for responsible catch-and-release fishing.

The various types of technology and gear items associated with deep sea fishing have become significantly more advanced in recent years. Many of the fishing industry’s top brands work to address some of the most prominent concerns that anglers have with catching fish and also returning them back into the water in a way that’s safe and healthy for the fish if possible. 

As more and more studies and data emerge detailing the devastating effects that catch and release practices can have on bottom fishing species, some of the most well-known brands in the fishing industry have started producing fish descenders to help alleviate the fish mortality rate among bottom-dwelling species. 

It’s no secret that some of the most popular game fish species that are typically found hiding among the deep water rocks and reefs are much more susceptible to succumbing to barotrauma. With the introduction of fish descenders as a reliable solution to this problem, the question then becomes “when should an angler utilize a fish descender?”

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these revolutionary new devices and help anglers understand how and when to employ them in their fishing trips to help their catches survive for another day. 

What is a Barotrauma? 

Barotrauma is one of the most common causes of death for fish that get ripped out of the ocean’s depths and quickly released back into the water. Anyone who has done a small amount of deep sea fishing understands the effects of barotrauma and has likely seen it first-hand. When a fish is pulled rapidly from the depths of the ocean floor more than a hundred feet below, the extreme variation in barometric pressure tends to have devastating effects on the body of the fish. 

In most cases, the significant lack of pressure causes the fish’s eyes to bulge out, as well as other gruesome factors that can very often lead to the fish’s death in most cases. The stomach and intestines are distended and often protruding from the mouth of the fish, making it almost certain to die a slow and agonizing death, fluttering away at the water’s surface until another predatory fish takes advantage of an easy meal or the fish simply dies from the trauma. 

Barotrauma example

How to Combat Barotrauma

One of the most popular means of combating barotrauma and acting to help give these fish a fighting chance is the fish descender. This tool is proven to be much more effective at helping bottom dwelling fish have a greater chance of survival than some of the more traditional means of combating barotrauma. 

Most anglers, up until the invention of the fish descender, mainly used sharp, pointed needle-like devices that were designed to puncture the fish’s ruptured swim bladder and allow them to return to the depths more quickly than simply releasing them back into the water. Failing to puncture this swim bladder properly will almost always result in the fish taking too long to return to their normal dwelling depth and being more of an easy target for sharks and other predatory fish that make a quick meal out of these unfortunate creatures. 

What is a Fish Descender?

Some of the most powerful organizations that regulate the seas around the North American continent have made significant moves in recent years to encourage the use of new and improved methods of returning fish to the bottom safely. Anglers can now do this in a simple and easy method using a fish descender. 

A fish descender is a device that attaches to the fish’s mouth or is a container that the fish fits into in order to return it to the deep water it belongs in. These devices typically have a heavy weight attached to them to aid the fish in getting to the necessary depth where it can be once again released into its ideal habitat at or near the bottom. 

These fish descender devices usually return the fish to a minimum depth of 60 feet with some models working to take fish down as deep as 120 feet with relative ease. There are a number of different brands and styles of fish descenders, but anglers can choose the one that is best suited for their needs. This will usually depend on what type of species the angler expects to catch during their fishing trip and how deep the fish needs to go in order to safely return it to the bottom. 

Fish Descender

When to Use a Fish Descender?

In order to best determine whether or not you should utilize a fish descender device, it’s important to understand the symptoms of barotrauma and quickly recognize them in order to effectively use the device. If your catch shows a distended stomach, bulging eyes, bloated belly or bubbling scales, you should utilize a fish descender device as quickly as possible in order to safely and effectively return the fish back down to its home depths. 

Some waters around the United States and other countries are starting to regulate bottom fishing to require angler to use either a venting device to puncture the swim bladder or a fish descender to return the fish back to the bottom. In most cases, governmental authorities are moving toward requiring anglers, within a certain range from the shoreline, to utilize fish descenders. 

It’s very important for anglers to pay attention to the specific regulations in the area they plan to fish and to be aware when they are legally required to use a fish descender device. 

If you are fishing deep with an electric fishing reel then you will need a fish descender.

How Effective are Fish Descenders? 

There have been limited efforts to fully study the overall effectiveness of fish descenders, but it’s very likely that more data will become available in the next few years related to these devices and whether they actually work. There’s no denying that a fish descender will work much more efficiently than a venting tool or making no efforts at all to aid the fish in its descent back to the bottom

Most anglers should recognize the opportunity to help aid their catch in a safe and effective return to the bottom as this is an ethical practice that will help combat the overall level of fish mortality and possibly boost the survival rate of some of the most popular game fish species that can be caught in the ocean’s depths. 

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