How And When To Use Fish Grips

Recently, top notch angler and good friend of mine, Andy Mytton , posted on his blog about the recent rise of ‘fish grips’ in UK LRF. In response I shared my thoughts on Facebook but these things disappear quickly, so I thought it better to share here instead.

Mackerel are one of the main species that fish grips are used for.

For reference you can find Andy’s blog here –

And here are my views on the subject…

You may have seen me use grips in my photos this summer. It’s something I have trialled personally to see how I feel about them. I wanted to use them for mackerel and garfish mostly, as they are seriously tricky fish to look after once out of the water.

Scad don’t lose scales easily but they have a spiked lateral line and this can lead to dropped fish so a grip can be helpful, if not essential.

Firstly we need to talk about the problem with mackerel, garfish and herring, and that’s the huge scale loss they experience when in contact with any surface, hand or otherwise. Although there are reports this kills them, even if it doesn’t, it must severely weaken the fish. So if I’m not keeping my fish to eat, I’m trying to avoid this scale loss. Most of my time fishing in the past, I have done this by lip gripping, but you still have a problem with supporting the body so my skin remains in contact with the fish. With garfish you cannot lip grip for obvious reasons so they are even trickier. In regards to scad, these are much easier to hold and do not lose scales so easily, but they do have a delicate mouth and a spiny lateral line, again making them tricky to handle and not drop at times.

This gar managed to lose the hook before I could get the grip on it, which is why it looks dirty.

As Andy says in his excellent blog, the grips themselves are a Japanese invention popular there and around the Mediterranean. They are normally plastic or hard rubber with pyramid shaped teeth to grip the fish. For years I haven’t used them for the same reasons as Andy, but as time has gone on, I have felt it’s been fair to give them a chance. So what is my experience so far?

Many big brands have their own grips, they are all pretty much the same though.

Personally, I think they have their uses. If you compare scale loss from a hand gripped around the body to unhook, compared to the grips, there is no comparison, the grips remove less scales. So I think for certain species they are significantly better than bare hands or a towel, dry or wet.

The question of the damage to internal organs is an important one of course. We all know where they are in a fish and I think it’s obvious if we are pressing hard on those areas that will cause damage. So I think it’s essential when gripping a fish, with grips or hands, we avoid the gut area if we wish to release our catch.

Species like this ballan wrasse require only careful wet hands.

I think this debate also brings out some interesting and contradicting views, because we often see fish photographed on rocks, wrapped in a towel, hanging from the hook etc, and these images do not seem to trigger the reaction that the grips do. I don’t have all the answers but my experience tells me a gripped fish isn’t bashing itself against the ground, losing all its scales or ripping its jaw. Hopefully the progress will continue and we will find alternative ways to look after our fish when we catch and release, but in the meantime the grips feel the better option for specific species

This one came home for dinner

It’s very important to say that these are simply not necessary for the majority of our saltwater species in the UK, (I can’t think of any species in freshwater they would be necessary for either) and in fact will do more damage than wet hands or a well supported lip grip. But for loose scaled small to medium sized pelagic species, I personally think they are beneficial. At the end of the day this is your personal choice and there shouldn’t be pressure one way or another as long as you are caring for your fish when you catch and release.

Thin lipped mullet lose scales easily but are too big for grips, wet hands and gentle grips are the only way.

So with that said, if you want to use fish grips, this is my guide for using them:

Species you can use grips on:
Mackerel, garfish, herring, pilchard, scad, sprat, anchovy, (larger) poor cod & similar loose scaled species, plus our two venomous species in the UK, the lesser and greater weever.

I do not recommend using grips on any of the wrasse species, bass, eels, pollock, coalfish, gobies, blennies, cod, sea scorpions, smelt, whiting, pouting, flatfish or anything similar. The scales on these species are firmly embedded and you are likely doing more harm than good. Wet hands or a wet cloth/towel should do nicely for the majority of these species. Thin lipped mullet have fairly loose scales but considering their size, I don’t think grips would be appropriate for them.

In practice you either net the fish and lift it out with the grips, or if the fish is small enough you lift it out of the water and grip it quickly to minimise hang time on the line. I have found the best place to grip is on the muscled area just above the pectoral fin, do not just grip the belly or underside of the fish as they will damage its organs. You can then unhook, take a quick snap, if you like, and release.

Thank you for reading, I hope this helps on this contentious topic.


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