Marlin LeFever of Fishing Addicts Northwest explains how to properly “bonk and bleed” a steelhead or salmon.
Properly handling your harvested catch will ensure that it doesn’t suffer needlessly. In this video, Marlin LeFever of Fishing Addicts Northwest demonstrates proper techniques for harvested steelhead or salmon.
First, identify that your catch is a legal harvest hatchery fish. Most hatchery fish will have an adipose fin removed. Once you’ve identified the fish a legal harvest hatchery fish, get it up on the bank away from the water and give it a good “bonk” square in the noggin with a stick, rock, or Lamiglas bonker.
“Bonking” your fish is beneficial for several reasons. It immobilizes them so that it’s not squirming around, potentially getting away from you. Immobilizing the fish also prevents it from flopping and destroying your gear or putting yourself at risk from hooks, which are much easier to remove when the fish is under control.
Additionally, bonking the fish merely renders it unconscious for the next step, bleeding the fish out. A good bonk will make the eyes go straight, but leave the heart pumping blood.
Once you’ve bonked the fish, reach under the gill plate, and using a knife, cut the crease of the gills. You can rip the gills out by hand, but the gill rakers are like teeth and can easily cut your skin, leaving a high potential risk for bacterial infections.
Then place the head of the fish under water so it will prevent the blood from clotting and continue to pump blood out of the fish. During this process, massaging the back of the fish from tail to head will help move the blood towards the open wound.
Properly bleeding out a fish ensures the best quality meat, as the blood will often quickly spoil long before the meat itself. If the fish you have harvested is a hen carrying eggs you intend to use for bait, properly bleeding the fish will also ensure the best quality bait product.