Why Wet Your Hands Before Touching A Trout?

Home | Trout | Why Wet Your Hands Before Touching A Trout?

One of the most common criticisms you can find in YouTube comments on fishing videos is that the angler didn’t wet their hands before touching a trout. So what’s the big deal? How is wetting your hands going to make a difference? That’s what I want to go into with this article.

Touching trout or other fish with a dry hand can remove the epidermal mucus (aka slime) which is a fish’s first defence against harm, fungus, and disease. By wetting your hands, you decrease the amount of slime that gets removed, and increase the likelihood of survival. 

What is Fish Slime? 

Fish are covered in slime which is a mucus that is produced through their skin beneath their scales. This layer of slime protects them from bacteria and parasites not only by acting as a shield, but also by trapping and killing microbes.  

This slime is a pretty awesome defense mechanism and if you want to learn more about the biology of it I recommend this article.

The slime can also protect the trout against large predators. Have you ever had a slimy trout wiggle out of your hands?

Now this is cool information, but what does it have to do with wetting your hands before handling a trout?

Dry Hands Remove Fish Slime

If you have ever handled a fish, then you know that afterwards your hands smell fishy. This is obviously because you got some of that fish slime on your hands. This will happen no matter what. Fish will leave some slime on whatever they touch. 

However, it is our responsibility as catch and release anglers to minimize the amount of slime removed while handling. 

This is one reason why you should never let a fish touch the ground if you are planning to release them. Not only does the dirt, rocks, grass etc. remove a lot of their slime, but it allows debris to get into their gills which can suffocate them. Check out my article about why you should never let trout touch the ground.

The fish’s slime will stick better to a dry surface than a wet one. You will notice that if you handle a trout with dry hands, your hands will stink more than if your hands were wet. This is because wetting your hands will help prevent the slime from sticking to you.

So even if you don’t care about the fish, you can keep some of the stink off your hands by just getting them wet first. 

Wet Hands, Wet Net

Nets are also a big problem when it comes to removing the trout’s slime. 

There are a few different landing net materials and some are worse than others. The worst net for trout is one made of course string or rope-like material. This course material not only absorbs the slime off the trout, but scrapes it off as well. And the large holes in the net can allow the net to get under the fish’s gill cover and damage their gills. 

Using a rubber net will help protect the trout from losing slime.

The best trout nets are made of rubber, and have small holes. You’ll find some of these to be pretty expensive for top of the line brands, but you can also get the cheaper store-brand versions.

A net should naturally get wet as you are scooping a fish out of the water, but just be sure the whole net gets submerged. Just like wet hands, a wet net will remove less fish slime.

Will Trout Die if You Touch Them?

Trout won’t die simply from being touched by humans. However, handling a trout improperly can lead to its death either through loss of protective slime, suffocation due to damaged gills, or injuries from being dropped or squeezed.

The best practice for releasing a trout safely is to keep the fish in the water at all times. This prevents the gills from collapsing and getting damaged. It also means that you won’t accidentally drop the fish on rocks or the ground.

When handling a fish underwater, your hands will stay wet and remove less slime.

You can also cause internal damages to the fish by squeezing them too tight in your hands.

Avoid Touching The Fish

The best case scenario may be that you don’t have to touch the fish at all. Of course this is difficult to do with trout which are usually kicking around like crazy. 

To remove a hook without touching the fish you will need your hook to be where you can actually get a hold of it, then you can just twist it out. This works best if there is no barb. Keep the fish in or over the water when you do this.

The main concern is to get the hook out as soon as possible. If you have to hold the fish with one hand while getting the hook out with the other, that’s fine. Just keep those hands wet, and don’t squeeze the fish.

safely handling trout with wet hands

Don’t Wear Gloves

A cloth material like gloves can help you to get a better grip on the fish, however, these materials wipe slime off worse than dry hands. If you need gloves to fish in the cold, just take them off before handling the fish. You wouldn’t want your gloves to get soaked anyways.

And make sure you have a try towel to dry off your hands as soon as you let the fish go. Wet hands are cold hands.

Can Trout Reproduce Slime?

Trout and other fish are constantly producing slime. So even if some slime gets removed with or without wet hands, the trout can eventually produce more slime to protect itself again. However, there will be a period of time that they are exposed to bacteria and parasites. By wetting our hands, we reduce the amount of slime removed, and therefore leave some protection for the fish.

By John

Hi I'm John. I'm the author of I have been obsessed with fishing since my dad took me to catch bluegill in the creek as a little kid, over 20 years ago. I love learning and perfecting all kinds of fishing techniques. I have spent time living in different countries learning their unique traditional fishing methods, and then combining the best of all worlds to catch as many fish as possible. My hope is that this website can help you, or someone you are teaching, to have a better fishing experience early on so that you too can be hooked into this wonderful sport.

Leave a Reply