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What Is an Unhooking Mat? (A Complete Guide)

What Is an Unhooking Mat? (A Complete Guide)

Carp anglers have used them for ages, but even fishermen who target pike and other species use unhooking mats more and more in order to handle their fish.

As there is so much to know about this particular piece of fishing gear, I wanted to answer the question: what is an unhooking mat?

Unhooking mats are made of a protective outer fabric and a soft foam-based center and used to protect the fish from harming itself while you handle and unhook it on land. They come in many different shapes and sizes and are most commonly used for carp fishing.

Continue reading this article if you want to know all the specifics about unhooking mats, how exactly they are used, and what species you can use them for.

What Are Unhooking Mats Used for?

Unhooking mats are used for fish protection while handling and, as the name suggests, unhooking fish on the ground after you have caught and landed them.

Most commonly, they are used by carp anglers, but even predator and coarse anglers are using them more and more to better handle their catches.

Thanks to their outer fabric, which is usually breathable and very friendly to the fish’s slimy skin, and their super-soft inner fabric, often made of foam or tiny poly balls, unhooking mats act like beds, or mattresses, for the fish while they are on land.

An unhooking mat will allow you to both calm your fish and keep it for a short while without it flipping on the ground and possibly injuring itself so that you can safely and smoothly unhook it.

Additionally, these mats are great to use when wanting to measure the length of a fish, as the fish is much more likely to remain still and straight while resting on the mat.

A third advantage of using an unhooking mat is that your catch and its sensitive and vulnerable outer layer of slime won’t get in contact with dirt, gravel, or sand on the bank, but will instead remain clean until you release it back into its element.

How Do You Use an Unhooking Mat?

Using an unhooking mat is really straightforward and simple. Basically, you put your mat on the ground in or near your swim and then place your caught fish on it.

Obviously, these will only include bigger specimens that you cannot unhook and release directly or fish that you want to measure, weigh, and photograph.

Here are a few more things to think of when using an unhooking mat:

Wet Your Mat

Always pour some water onto your mat before you place your caught fish on it. The mat’s outer fabric is fish-friendly in itself but works even better when wet.

Pro Tip: If you need to keep your fish on the mat longer than expected, make sure to also pour some water over it, to make its stay on land more comfortable.

Keep It Away From the Water

Try not to place your unhooking mat too close to the water! Trust me, I had to learn this the hard way. Sometimes, a fish will move around uncontrollably and eventually get off the mat.

If this happens too close to the water, it’ll make its way back into its element before you can grab it again (it’s like they know where to go).

This can be especially difficult to handle at night, and especially frustrating if it is a really big fish you wanted to weigh and take a nice picture of.

So, just to be sure, place your mat a good distance away from the water.

Build a Fish Handling Station

It can be a smart idea to build up an entire little station around your unhooking mat.

You can put your measuring tape, scale, and weighing sling right next to it, as well as place a bankstick or tripod in front or behind it, so that measuring, weighing, and taking a picture of your catch can be done swiftly and orderly.

This will reduce stress for you and for the fish, as well as get it back into the water again much faster.

Different Types of Unhooking Mats

Specimen Unhooking Mats

a coarse angler holding a big crucian carp of 3lb that he has caught on a single sweetcorn using the lift method
Me with my PB crucian carp using a small specimen unhooking mat

These are flat, light, and often smaller-sized unhooking mats that are predominantly used for smaller coarse fish and smaller pike or zander.

You can roll them together, which makes them very easy to transport and bring around, and the perfect fit for shorter sessions.

They often come in the following sizes:

  • 40x80cm (15×30 inches)
  • 60x100cm (25×40 inches)

Take a closer look at my favorite specimen unhooking mat on Amazon here

Beanie Unhooking Mats

a happy carp angler holding a giant common carp over a beanie unhooking mat
Courtesy of Tom Watchorn

This type of unhooking mat is more advanced and thicker than the previous one and most suited for bigger fish, such as big pike, carp, and smaller catfish.

They are generously padded, very soft, and can hence handle even the liveliest of fish exceptionally well.

They can be folded and closed up with velcro straps.

Beanie mats usually come in the following sizes:

  • 60x110cm (25×45 inches)
  • 80x130cm (30×50 inches)

You can find a classic and high-quality beanie unhooking mat on Amazon here

Carp Cradles

a carp angler and his daughter holding a common carp and using a carp cradle to handle the fish correctly.
Me and my daughter with a nice little common carp

And last but not least, carp cradles, which are a newer type of unhooking mats.

Carp cradles are most suited for carp, as they are usually oval and hence fit the carp’s own body shape. They are commonly pop-up versions that can be folded and come with a large carry bag.

This type of unhooking mat is well padded and usually has walls for extra fish protection and safety. As such, it is the perfect mat to handle both small and very big carp without any fuss.

Carp cradles can come in the following sizes:

  • 80x50x20cm (30x20x8 inches)
  • 110x50x20cm (45x20x8 inches)

Check out the perfect carp cradle on Amazon here

What Species Can You Use Unhooking Mats for?

a pike caught on a spinnerbait lying on a specimen unhooking mat.
Courtesy of Steve Keeler

As previously stated, unhooking mats have been used in carp angling spheres for many years and it is carp angling that they are most associated with.

However, more and more pike anglers are using them as well to handle their big catches, which makes a whole lot of sense, as pike have fairly sensitive skin and slime layers.

Beyond that, coarse anglers are also unhooking mats for their somewhat smaller catches, although they aren’t used as much here.

And then there are the specimen anglers, who’ll basically use an unhooking mat for all their target species.

Doing a fair bit of specimen fishing myself, I like to use them for the following species that I target throughout the year:

  • Carp
  • Bream
  • Tench
  • Crucian Carp
  • Eel
  • Ide
  • Pike
  • Zander
  • Perch

In the US and Canada, more and more anglers also use them for the following species, both on open water and on the ice during winter:

  • Walleye
  • Bass
  • Steelhead
  • Lake trout
  • Northern pike
  • Musky
  • Buffalo fish
  • Common carp

How to Clean Your Unhooking Mat?

Cleaning your unhooking mat is always a good idea, as this will both eliminate the risk for bacteria on the mat, as well as the horrid stench that comes from dried fish slime, especially during summer when it’s warm!

When your fishing session is coming to an end, a first step can be to simply give it a good rinse in the water of the venue you’re fishing in. This will get rid of most of the slime and smell, which makes the drive home so much more pleasant.

Once you’re home, give it a good rinse in the shower using warm water, and then hang it out to dry outside. It’ll be nice, clean, and ready for your next trip.

Should You Use an Unhooking Mat?

If you ask me, I’d always give the same answer: yes, you should always use an unhooking mat for certain species.

If you enjoy fishing, then you’ll most likely also want to take care of the fish you catch, especially if you are practicing catch&release.

And while fish like carp, pike, eel, or other slimy fellows that you catch are on land, using an unhooking mat to handle them is simply a very sensible and fish-friendly thing to do.

The fish, both now and in the future, when you or someone else will catch it again, will definitely thank you for it!

Tight lines!

Essential Tackle Tips

If you’re looking for solid and reliable carp fishing equipment, these tips might be useful for you.

The following tackle is of top quality and sells at a very decent price on Amazon.

I have been using this setup myself for many years and have caught plenty of big carp with it.

Rod: Daiwa Black Widow

A very strong and beautifully made 12ft 3lb carp rod with a ton of backbone and a great bend. Casts anything up to 5 oz extremely well and lets you navigate and control your fish smoothly and effectively. Fits both open and snaggy waters.

Reel: Shimano Baitrunner DL 6000

A reliable standard-sized baitrunner reel that works great for short to medium-distance carp fishing. Loads around 200 yards of 15-18lb monofilament mainline. Handles any wild run very smoothly! Fits the Black Widow rod perfectly.

Mainline: Daiwa Sensor 15lb

One of the strongest and most durable monofilament lines out there! Sells at a very good price and will last you for many fishing trips. Has just the right amount of stretch to perfectly hook and fight every fish.

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Featured image courtesy of Lamb Lamby