Sometimes when you are fishing, a hook might get caught pretty deep within a fish’s mouth or even stomach.
When this requires you to cut the line, the fish can be left with the hook in its mouth or stomach.
Ever had that happen to you? And ever wondered what happens to the fish?
This article explains what happens when a hook is left in a fish’s mouth or stomach, and how long a fish can live with a hook in its stomach.
A fish can live with a hook in its stomach for days and even months before either ejecting the hook or until the hook weakens and breaks into smaller pieces to be passed by the fish.
What happens if a hook stays in a fish?
If a hook stays in a fish, the impact or harm it can cause a fish depends very much on how and where the fish has been hooked, and with what type of hook.
Typically a fish hooked in the jaw can cause less damage than when hooked in the gullet or stomach.
It is also often easier to remove a hook from a fish’s jaw than their throat or stomach. The hook can easily be reached with needle nose pliers and removed.
When a fish is hooked in the stomach, other measures might need to be taken to ensure the fish’s welfare, like cutting the line and leaving the hook in the fish.
Some studies have shown that if a hook is left in a fish’s mouth, lodged in the jaw, there is a chance that it can shake it free and dislodge it from its mouth.
The suggestion is that the more uncomfortable or obstructive the hook is to normal behavior, the more effort the fish will put into getting rid of the hook.
J-hooks versus circle hooks and barbed versus barbless hooks also differ in the damage they may do to a fish and how long they stay in a fish.
Barbed J-hooks have been said to cause the most damage to fish on entry and also when trying to be removed because the barb prevents the hook from coming free easily.
Some J-hooks also have tanges too, little spikes that come out off the back of the hook shaft, again gripping and tearing into flesh when the hook is set.
When a hook with these features is left in a fish it’s likely to cause much more damage than a barbless hook.
However, some species of fish have been shown to live on relatively normally after being hooked with lures.
One study simulated pike being hooked in multiple locations in the jaw and throat (different fish of course!) with treble hooks similar to what is found on lures and observed the fishes’ behavior.
They found that many of the fish were able to free themselves of the lure after 24 hours – all of these were hooked in the mouth rather than the throat. Which makes the case for using circle hooks that consistently hook the mouth, not the throat.
Can a fish live with a hook stuck in its mouth?
A fish can live with a hook stick in its mouth, but its survival rate is impacted by a number of factors.
Firstly, where is the hook lodged?
If it is not obstructing the fish’s mouth too much and the fish can still catch prey or eat as normal then it may be able to behave relatively normally.
If it’s hooked through both the upper and lower jaw and it’s restricting movement, this might be a problem for eating.
If the hook is in the center of its throat, then this can also obstruct eating.
The study mentioned above showed that there wasn’t much impact on the fishes’ behavior even with a lure in its mouth in the first 24hr period.
Secondly, how was it reeled in when retrieving the fish?
When reeling in a fish, the length of time the fish is fighting for and how exhausted it becomes when doing so is something to consider.
The more exhausted a fish is, the less likely it is to survive the trauma of being caught and handled. Exhausted fish can struggle to get the oxygen they need, and keep themselves level in the water when you release them.
This is why it’s recommended not to use very light fishing gear when you are angling for fish that you might then release again later.
The fight often lasts longer, causing exhaustion and unnecessary injury to the fish.
Thirdly, how was the hook detached from the line, and how was the fish handled?
The recommendation is for speedy hook removal, or if that is not possible, to cut the line as close to the hook eye as possible. And when I say speedy, it means under 30 seconds.
Being out of the water is highly stressful for fish. They are exposed to the air and unable to process oxygen through their gills.
The equipment you use is important too. Fishing nets with knots or coarse material can injure and lacerate fish, damaging their scales.
So opt for fish-friendly equipment that does as little damage if any to the fish.
In some instances, I’ve seen fish that have the remains of a rusty hook left in their mouths, and a kind of hard flesh covers the hook.
This apparently is called ‘encapsulation’, where the body of the fish actually ends up encapsulating the hook itself.
Can fish survive with a hook in its stomach?
Fish have been known to ingest and carry hooks in their stomachs.
Reading some responses from fishing forums, it seems a lot of anglers have had experiences where they are gutting a fish and find a corroded old hook inside the fish.
No doubt though, that if the hook moves into an unfortunate place, it could easily cause damage to the fish.
With bait wrapped around the hook, there is a chance that the barb of the hook avoids causing damage to the fish.
A study monitoring the effects of ingested hooks on yellowfin bream has found that it’s possible a fish can eject a hook that has been swallowed and survive after the incident.
How long can a hook stay in a fish’s stomach? How long can a fish live with a hook in its stomach?
If you look online there are multiple responses from anglers online that suggest a varied range of dates for how long a fish can have a hook in its stomach and how long it might survive.
Looking at the study again mentioned earlier, here is an excerpt detailing how long a fish might have a hook in its stomach…
“Of 20 hook-ingested fish released during Expt 1, 3 died within 8 d, providing non-significant mortality of 15%. Between Day 6 and Day 56 post-release, 13 of the surviving individuals ejected their hooks, which were typically oxidized to about 94% of their original weight and often broken into 2 pieces. At Day 105, there were no significant differences between the 20 control and 17 hook-ingested/-ejected fish in terms of their ability to digest and assimilate food”
How long does it take for a fish to get rid of a hook?
Studies have found different results with varying species. Some fish are able to get rid of a hook stuck in their jaws between 1-24hrs after being hooked, and others able to eject a hook ingested into the stomach between 6-56 days.
If the fish isn’t able to eject the hook itself, then the hook may break or corrode and fall away from the fish’s body.
This can take anywhere between days and months – it depends on the material of the hook and whether the hook is in saltwater or fresh water.
Generally anglers are advised to avoid using stainless steel hooks, or plated hooks because they take far longer to corrode.
Do fish stomachs dissolve hooks?
There are studies out there that suggest that hooks do dissolve in fish’s stomachs to some degree, however it is likely that this takes a long time to happen.
Fish stomachs would have a level of digestive acid in them to help corrode and start to break down the hook. However it is also possible that the hook simply weakens and breaks down into smaller pieces and is then passed through the fish.
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How long can a fish live with a hook in its stomach? Summary
So you can now see that the answer to how long a fish can live with a hook in its stomach depends on many factors, and can vary between days and months.
Next time you catch a fish and you are wondering what might happen to that hook that you just unfortunately had to cut free, you’ll now know.