Removing Billfish from the Water: Don't Do It!

May 22, 2020

Anglers love hero shots with their fish, especially if it's their first one. Of all the billfish species, sailfish lend themselves particularly well to this type of photo, since they're usually small enough to lift up, have particularly gorgeous colors and that massive sail to hold out like a giant flag.

But don't do it! Removing any billfish species from the water, even for a few moments for a photo, is illegal, both in Costa Rica and the United States. Studies have shown that by scraping the fish over the gunwale of the boat, we are actually harming internal organs and removing the fish's protective slime layer that acts as a barrier coat against harmful diseases, parasites and infections. Even though you intend to release the fish, by removing it from the water you may have just signed its death warrant instead.

Here are a few things you can do to still get a great photo of your catch. First, be ready with the camera. Few things are more frustrating for your captain or mate than having the fish ready at boatside while someone fumbles for a camera deep inside a duffle bag or backpack. Be ready! Take a few shots during the fight, with the angler grinning from ear to ear.

Photo Courtesy of DiegoLopez Gamefisher II

Once the fish is ready for release and the leader has been cut, the angler can don a pair of gloves, lean over the side and hold the fish by the bill and the sail as it's revived alongside the boat. The cameraperson should lean out over the side and shoot back toward the angler and the fish. After a few moments, the fish is ready for a healthy release.

Another option: the extended selfie stick and GoPro. Many crews are now using this setup to shoot wide-angle shots back at the boat and anglers. It's simply a GoPro set on camera mode to shoot every second or so after the shutter is activated. It's mounted to a long pole that's held out away from the boat, and the images it reveals are usually very memorable.

Video is a third way to remember the fight. Using that same GoPro, mount it to either a fixed mount on the boat or just hold it in your hand to capture a full video of the fight and the release. All smartphones have a video capability these days as well.

So really, the need to remove a marlin or sailfish from the water just isn't there. Be smart, keep them in the water where they belong.

Courtesy The Presidential Flamingo Fishing Rodeo, Joan Vernon: www.preschallenge.com