These adult spawning fish exceed the slot limit, in fact, many will be longer than 40 inches, better than a foot above the upper end of the slot. Anglers must exercise extreme care when handling these fish.
Everyone likes to catch one or 20 of these massive fish, and that's fine, but the future of fishing for big reds depends on their survival.
The older they fish get, the more fragile they become.
For starters, circle hooks should be the only type used, and their barbs should be flattened to allow for quick releases. Anglers should use at least medium-heavy action gear to get these fish to the boat quickly. The longer the battles, the more stress trauma these fish must overcome.
Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley's Fishing Charters strives to prevent unnecessary harm to these fish.
"The best thing to do is keep the fish in the water, but we all want to take home a photo. We usually take a photo of one or two fish and make quick releases on the rest," said Kelly, who cradles these fish when lifting them out of the water, because lifting them by their jaws or gills will cause internal damage and possible death.
Lipping devices are fine for handling them, but their bodies should be supported when lifted out of the water. Rubber landing nets can also be beneficial to preserve their protective slime layer covering their entire body.