SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — As winter approaches, many families will make plans to go ice fishing with the intention to release the fish they catch. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is offering a few tips to ensure not just the anglers but the fish as well have the best experience while that is happening.

Minimize the air exposure time for the fish

Anglers should keep in mind that fish do not bode well in freezing weather. During winter months, the water they are swimming in is often warmer than the temperature they will be exposed to once they pulled out.

“If an angler is fishing on a particularly cold day, pulling a fish up through a hole and exposing them to freezing conditions can be stressful to a fish,” said Randy Oplinger, sportfish coordinator at DWR. “The water that remains on sensitive areas — such as the gills or eyes — can begin to freeze and this can cause damage to a fish. So, it is best to minimize exposure time and to release the fish as quickly as possible after catching it.”

The division said one way to reduce air exposure time is to make sure the tools to release the fish are nearby.

“Anglers should carry the equipment that they need to release their fish in an easily accessible location,” Oplinger said. “What you don’t want to do is increase air exposure time for the fish because you are scrambling to find equipment.”

DWR recommends keeping pliers on a lanyard and storing all equipment in a bucket or sled.

Eliminate contact with dry surfaces

The gloves anglers wear to protect their hands from freezing temperatures are often made of absorptive fabric, and they can remove the protective slime coat on fish.

Oplinger suggests handling the fish with bare hands. Without the slime coat, the fish will be susceptible to various skin issues, including fungal diseases.

Safety tips for anglers

Dressing in thick layers is especially important when it comes to ice fishing. Anglers will have to make sure they are staying warm enough when they are outside in the frigid temperatures. The general recommendation, DWR said, is to only step on ice that is at least four inches thick. Drill holes into the ice to make sure it is safe to continue moving forward.

Additionally, DWR advises anglers to spread the weight out — do not cluster in the same area.

“As an extra precaution, you can also purchase ice safety picks, which can help you get out of a lake if you fall through the ice,” Oplinger said. “I’d also recommend taking a rope with you. It’s always a good idea to have someone else with you when ice fishing.”

DWR built an interactive map that shows ice fishing locations in Utah. Anglers can click on the waterbodies for more information and submit ratings for the ones they visited.