Trout slip through the water and the water doesn’t touch them. They have a slime, a film, which protects them. There is an ichthyological name for it: mucoprotein coating. This coating contains enzymes and antibodies that fight infection. When even a small portion of this coating is compromised, fish bleed essential electrolytes into the water.
This slime coat is what stinks on your hands after you have touched a fish.
When you love trout as I do, you handle them gently so as not to mar their delicate, essential protection.
Before you touch a trout, you dip your hands in the stream as if it is holy water, gathering enough water to make your hands a font. Your touch does not injure; it anoints.
In that moment, there is but one thought in your mind: release.
If you practice enough–and if you love trout you will practice–you can release a trout without touching it at all. It doesn’t happen every time, but if you keep the trout on the line just long enough, and if you use barbless hooks, and if you are focused on the fish so that you become one with it for the brief time of your connection with it, then you can reach down, grasp the fly, and remove the hook without even touching the fish.
Often, the fish will swim behind your waders, breathing, regaining strength. You wait and watch, yet the trout disappears like a dream.
Effortlessly, silently, it glides into deep waters.