A fish stringer goes through the gill and mouth of a live fish, providing a way to keep them captive and alive in the lake or river they are caught from.

I would imagine the key to survival is how much the stringer impacts the gills ability to uptake oxygen. This question is limited to fresh water fishing, using a stringer in salt water is likely to get your catch eaten.

Assuming the fish was not significantly harmed when caught, how long can it live on a stringer?

  • 4
    Sorry. I don't do fishing so my comment is merely based on your photo. It looks a bit cruel to keep the fish hooked up. Isn't there some sort of cage you can put them in and then inside the water? You could probably improve life span as well.
    – Desorder
    Dec 20, 2016 at 20:44
  • 2
    My dog's crate is around .9m x 1.2m. It packs flat when we close the walls together. I was thinking something along those lines. And I think so. Stringer looks more cruel. As I said, I'm not a fishman but I'm a hunter. I compare a stringer as shooting a deer in the guts. I shot but I didn't kill. Also, my comment is not about confronting anything here... I'm just raising some other options. :)
    – Desorder
    Dec 20, 2016 at 21:45
  • 3
    @Desorder I don't feel stringers are the same as gut shooting a deer. A live well is the product you're looking for instead of a dog crate. While these are the gold standard they are only really viable when fishing from a boat. Stringers are used more often when fishing from the shore, although they can be used from a boat too. Also the stringer works equally well on live and dead fish even though they are mostly used on live fish.
    – Erik
    Dec 21, 2016 at 17:32
  • 2
    I used our dog crate as a example just because it packs flat when collapsing the walls. Again, I'm not a fishman. I might just be talking ball oks here :)
    – Desorder
    Dec 21, 2016 at 19:27

3 Answers 3


A fish can survive a few hours on a stringer, but they're generally not the best approach. The fish will struggle against the stringer and injure itself, which can damage the fish and raises other questions (as @Desorder highlighted in comments). I recommend finding another option for storing your catch.

  • 3
    I'm not 100% clear why this has 2 downvotes? It seems to be an answer to the question being asked?
    – user2766
    Dec 22, 2016 at 9:06
  • 2
    @Liam If it only answered the question without judging the people who use stringers, or suggested a better method, the answer would be a lot better. Dec 22, 2016 at 16:30
  • 2
    @CharlieBrumbaugh I disagree. As outdoorsy people we should be concerned with preserving our natural environment and not causing unnecessary destruction or cruelty to wildlife. If something (stringers, gut shooting - to use the examples in the comments) may cause more suffering then other alternatives then it should be pointed out as part of the answer.
    – Darren
    Jan 22, 2020 at 13:45

Getting the fish home fresh is more important than how long it actually lives on the stringer.

If you don't have a cooler and you don't have a live tank a stringer is your best option. Water is almost always cooler than the air, keeps them moist, and will keep them alive for a period of time.

Do as little damage as possible removing the hook and use a single hook. This may involve clipping the line to feed the line through. Do it quickly and get the fish back in the water. Don't lift the existing fish out of the water to put on a fish on. A stringer does not impede the breathing that much. What it does impede is swimming and that is how they get most of the water flow. In a river or stream put them out in the current. You can easily get a couple hours in good conditions.

If you are going to get to ice in a couple hours then can be sloppy. A stringer is still your best option. But for a couple hours they will keep in fish bag.


Many articles on the Internet now recommend putting the stringer (or clips on a stringer) through the lower lip or bottom of the mouth, not through the gills. A gill stringer not only injures the gills but also impedes "breathing", i.e. moving water into the mouth and through the gills; also, don't put the clip through both lips, for the latter reason.

If you use a stringer with individual spaced clips for each fish, with ball bearings to allow the fish to move freely (rather than sit upside down, for example), the fish can live and stay fresh throughout the fishing day. Keep the fish in shade (e.g., under boat) and/or weight down to 5 or more feet to keep cool.

  • Welcome! We're so glad you stopped by, and hope you stay! We're different from some sites you might be used to, so I invite you to take a look around the different pages of our Help center. If there are any features you don't understand, or any way we can improve your experience, just leave a comment here and someone will come along! May 26, 2018 at 22:53
  • You'll notice that I changed the All-caps words to upper and lower case. It's not your fault because you're new, it's just that we discourage use of those. May 26, 2018 at 22:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.