From detecting the bite to enjoying the fight, catching walleyes is a blast. But the fish handling part of the end game can get a little tricky when you have a wildly thrashing ’eye on your hands.

The process of removing a walleye from its watery home or the confines of a landing net is especially important with fish you plan to release. Stomping, squeezing, mashing, mauling and gouging just won’t cut it. In a similar vein, you don’t want your fingers sliced to ribbons, either.

Smart fish handling helps prevent injuries to all parties, which begs a quick review of a few time-tested walleye holds.

When you reel in a feisty walleye you think will tip the scale beyond about 2½ to 3 pounds, the “gill lift” is a great way to hoist it. This is the hold you often see Lindy pros like Jon Thelen, Jeff Sundin and others using when posing for a quick photo with a big fish before sending their catch back into the drink.

It’s easy to do. Carefully slide your index finger inside the gill plate and along the bony interior wall—taking care not to damage the gills in the process. When your finger reaches the top of the gill cover, you can lift the fish in vertically out of the water or the landing net.

If the walleye being landed weighs less than about 2½ pounds, the “gill cover hold” is an acceptable maneuver.

Whether you’re lifting the fish from the water or a net, simply place your index finger and thumb over the soft, fleshy cheeks just ahead of the sharp, bony plate on the walleye’s gill flaps. Apply firm pressure to immobilize the walleye for unhooking, but don’t squeeze the daylights out of the fish if you plan to release it.

Other options include pressing down the dorsal fin (working from the front back) and simply grabbing the fish’s body. You can do this with fish up to about 5 pounds, but it’s best reserved for keepers since it’s easy to remove some of the fish’s protective slime in the process.

While there are other means of getting a lively walleye under control, these methods should help you safely handle your next catch. Just remember, if you plan to let the fish go, get it back in the water as quickly as possible.