It’s essential to execute the venting process as quickly as possible, with minimal handling of the fish. For example, when we bring up a grouper, snapper or amberjack from depths greater than 50 feet and wish to release it, we’ll look for signs of rapid decompression. If the fish looks fine, we’ll grasp its lower jaw, return it to the water and resuscitate it. If it appears to flounder at this stage and act like it may have problems going down, we’ll vent it. To vent a fish, we soak a beach towel in salt water, spread it on the gunwale or cooler, and lay the fish on top. With one person holding the fish’s head and tail, the free deckhand will lay the pec fin flush against the fish’s body. About an inch or so behind that fin, we’ll insert a hollow venting needle on a slight angle and just deep enough to purge the gasses from the swim bladder — it sounds like we’re letting air from a bicycle tire. It’s critical not to insert the needle straight in or too deeply, which can damage a vital organ. As the gasses leave the fish, we’ll begin adding slight finger pressure on the now deflating area to help compress the bladder and expel the gasses.
We then cradle the fish and put it back into the water, holding the lower jaw into the current so the water moving past the anchored boat flows over and through the fish’s gills. If the fish was captured drifting, we put a motor into gear to generate water flow. Once the fish appears rejuvenated (tail kicking, jaw clamping down on hand), we set it free. We use this tactic commonly for grouper, snapper and amberjack. For large fish, like goliath grouper, we execute the venting procedure with the fish in the water.
If a released fish doesn’t swim down, we’ll get it back to the boat and work with it some more. If a fish was brought up from cool, deep water to hot surface water, it could be thermal stress and not improper venting causing the problem.
The Right Stuff
Tools of the trade include a hypodermic or other hollow, well-honed, tiny-diameter and thin-walled stainless-steel needle. Knife and hook points are not recommended. The tool should be hollow for the gasses to escape. And make absolutely certain to clear that channel of flesh and scales. Do this by rinsing the tool in alcohol or bleach, drying it and then blowing through it. After it’s cleaned and checked, put the cap over the tool and store it in a safe yet easy to access place. Remember, time is of the essence when removing a fish from the water and venting it, and it can’t wait for you to clear a clogged needle.
Venting is a good, quick means of helping unwanted bottomfish get back to their lairs with a good survival rate. Yes, there will always be those who question the value of venting, but I will always go back to my red grouper story as proof that venting does indeed work — and is a much better option than setting unwanted fish afloat to die.
These educational websites go into great detail about venting fishes.
Venting Tools and Dehookers
Alien Products SnapperSaver
Team Marine USA Dehooker
Ohero Vent For Life
Proper Fish Venting