The use of gloves when handling trout is very controversial to say the less, like many fishermen I have seen photos and videos of badly injured trout with visible ‘burns’ or ‘fungal’ marks in the exact position a person holds a trout.
I have also seen wild trout with palm size fungal marks sulking in rivers. Was that the result of gloves, dry hands or neither, I can not say. But at first glance, it seems obvious that improper handling can likely cause trout to become infected by life threatening fungal growth.
I feel some controversy lies in whether a strong healthy trout. If released into a nonstressful environment will succumb to such infections when handled gently with nonabrasive gloves, or are fungal infections more a symptom of an already stressed trout that have been pushed too far?
Firstly, I want to highlight the video below. It is used as a key piece of evidence by anyone who is against the use of tailing gloves. It has certainly done the circuits of online forums. It shows fungal infections growing on a Brook trout after being handled with a tailing glove.
I will note that it appears this brookie was likely removed from its ‘hatchery’ race, handled ‘tightly’ with cotton gloves, then forced to live inside a much smaller observation tank while being heavily monitored. A process that was likely exposed it to extreme stress. That trout looked miserable even before the infection began to show.
While researching for this article, I checked the scientific databases, and I could not really find any research comparing mortality in trout caused by gloves. There are some papers that hint at it, but none that seem to target the question directly.
The counterargument – Why do some people say it is okay to wear gloves?
Despite the video evidence above, there are arguments to be had supporting the use of non-abrasive and wet gloves.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) feels so strongly that they actually provides anglers with tailing gloves in the belief that they reduce Salmonidae mortality by speeding up release time.
I do not have the right to republish them here, but there are countless photos online showing fishery biologists and other staff wearing gloves while handling trout as part of tagging and monitoring programs. Rubber gloves are also an essential part of the kit when electro-fishing.
Many fishery biologists, such as Daryl Bauer from Nebraska Game and Parks do recommend and encourage the use of appropriate gloves when handling fish.
Supporters of wearing gloves claim that if the fish remains in the water, the ability to securely hold a large fish can significantly speed up the release process, which reduces overall mortality. I feel the most important part is that they do not recommend lifting the fish from the water while using a glove.
The “North Shore Steelhead Association” has this to stay justify their encouragement of glove wearing when handling steelheads.
“If tailing gloves or sampling were causing excessive harm to Steelhead during the spawning migration, we would expect to see increased adult Steelhead mortality rates in tributaries where Steelhead are being biologically sampled, or where many anglers use tailing gloves. However, this is not what any of our data has ever shown since Steelhead sampling began on certain tributaries, in 1991”
Some guidelines to follow when handling trout while wearing gloves
- Hold the trout gently, it is not a squeeze toy. The aim is not to ringbark it.
- Always wet your glove before handling the trout
- Make sure to wear a smooth, non-abrasive glove
- Maximize the amount of time the trout is in the water
- Use barbless hooks, to further minimize the amount of handling.
- Gently roll the trout onto its side if it is struggling too much
How about other gloves? Is it okay to wear neoprene or nylon mesh gloves when handling trout?
Some fishermen and hatchery staff claim that all gloves, whether wet or dry have the potential to remove slime. They will advise to never wear gloves while handling fish.
Others claim that non-abrasive rubber or neoprene gloves are fine, and they reduce the risk of dropping fish. Make sure they are wet before handling, and most importantly do not hold the trout too tightly.
On occasion, I wear gloves when fishing, but I never handle the fish directly. I scoop the trout into the net, before lifting the leader up and use it as a guide to position my forceps around the hook. Because it is barbless, it usually pops straight out. I then tip the trout out of the net. No human-to-trout contact was made, and I rarely have to take them from the water.
Unless the trout is extremely badly hooked, there is actually very little need to handle a trout directly. If I do have to handle it, I secure the trout in the water, and then remove my glove.
Avoid cotton and filleting gloves
When practicing catch and release, it is best to avoid both cotton and fillet gloves. These gloves are made to be very abrasive and are designed to grip tightly.
Cotton gloves are also very absorbent, meaning they can suck the moisture away.
Common reasons to wear gloves, and possible alternatives
When misused, the wrong gloves can be extremely damaging to trout and other fish. I personally never handle trout with gloves, although I try to minimize handling in general. Nevertheless, there are some reasons why it might be desirable to wear gloves while fishing.
Quickly immobilizes trout speeding up the release. Instead of using gloves to immobilize trout, I use a large net. There are nets available that can support even the largest trout. Sure, my regular wading trout net is not large enough to hold a 44lb world record, but if I was planning to fish such waters, I might bring along more appropriate gear.
Protection from the cold. In winter, when conditions are below freezing gloves are the best way to prevent our hands from hurting. The best solution is to try and remove the hook without touching the trout. If that is impossible, remove your glove before handling fish, and keep a dry towel in your pocket to quickly dry your hands before putting the gloves back on.
Line cut protection. Anyone who spins fish with a braided line knows how easily it can cut wet skin. So, yes, wearing gloves to protect against braid cuts is a justified use, although long leaders can limit the amount of contact with braid. I wear fingerless leather palm gloves and secure the fish in the net while removing the hook. I am not sure if leather palm is good or not, so I do not risk holding any trout I plan on releasing.
Sun protection. Sunburn sucks, and it can cause skin cancer. But sunscreen does exist, yes some sunscreens are a bit nasty and can kill coral, but there are plenty that are quite environmentally friendly. If the main reason for wearing gloves is sun protection, use environmentally friendly sunscreen instead and reapply it every couple of hours. I suggest wearing a physical barrier sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and reapplying it regularly.
And yes, Sunscreen does not scare trout. Do not use that as an excuse.
Insect protection. I hate biting insects, but they love me. Mosquitoes seem to fly past all my mates just to bite me. Luckily insect repellent does exist and most of it does work (Some organic brands are a bit questionable). Just keep it away from your tackle and do not apply it directly to your flies or bait and there will not be any problems.
Well, I am not going to say whether gloves should be worn or not. What I think is most important is that any trout that is planned to be released should be held and handled gently, Always handle them with wet hands, leave them in the water as much as possible, and certainly do not ‘death grip’ them.