A lightweight tool that makes it a snap to release fish caught with a barbless hook is being produced by members of a Spokane fly fishing club who say it could save countless fish in catch-and-release waters.
The Runje Releaser, designed in the 1980s by the late Mike Runje, became standard equipment on the float tubes and pontoons of many Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club members.
Last year, the club invested in a tool-up to manufacture thousands of the devices to help other anglers reduce their impact on the fish they catch.
In most situations, an angler using the releaser doesn’t need to touch a fish and risk damaging its internal organs or protective slime layer.
Runje’s early design consisted of crudely bent 12 gauge copper wire. The gadget was refined in his garage an now, in the hands of a manufacturer, has evolved into a sleek tool that floats and hangs like a feather from a fly vest.
To use it effectively, work the fish in close and hold the rod tip high or take hold of the leader. With the other hand, reach out with the releaser and slip the open wire loop on the leader.
Slide the releaser down the leader over the hook eye to the bend of the hook.
Lift the releaser straight up and the fish will fall off.
Directions that come with the releaser point out that certain techniques are required if the hook is in a hard portion of the mouth or is deep in the mouth.
Chironomid anglers who generally hook their fish in the lip have learned to slide the releaser down to the bend of the hook and with a quick downward snap, the hook will be out.
“You get real good at it with a little practice, and everyone likes to practice catching fish,” said Jason Mulligan, club president.
“I took a bunch of releasers to Belize, gave them to the guides and they absolutely love them,” said Jon Allen of Silver Bow Fly Shop, which sells the device for under $10.
The releaser also is sold at Swede’s Fly Shop.
“I have learned that not all fish can be released quickly with our device,” said Mulligan, who’s tested the releaser extensively for the club. “However, it works beautifully on roughly an 8-to-1 ratio, releasing the fish with almost no stress. When guys have 30-fish days, this is a huge impact.
“Customers, guides, and world-renowned fishermen have used the releaser, providing very positive feedback,” Mulligan said. “They have all stated the value of releasing fish without harm.”
Any proceeds beyond costs are dedicated to Inland Northwest fish conservation projects, he said.