Largemouth bass anglers who practice catch-and-release fishing this summer can follow a few simple steps to ensure the fish they catch today will survive to bite another lure tomorrow.
Summertime heat brings with it higher temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen levels in reservoirs and rivers — conditions that are tough on largemouth bass, which can become more stressed when caught.
To minimize stress on fish, an angler who plans to catch and release the fish should land the fish quickly and handle it as little as possible.
“Try not to remove the fish from the water, even when you’re removing the hook from the fish’s mouth,” said Christian Waters, Inland Fisheries Division chief for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “Handle the fish as little as possible to help reduce the loss of slime coat, which is the fish’s main defense against infection and disease.”
Waters offers anglers other tips to keep a largemouth bass alive:
Wet your hands before you touch a fish;
Return the fish quickly to the water if you do not plan to keep it or place it in a livewell; and,
Use a knotless nylon or rubber-coated net instead of a knotted nylon net.
Anglers participating in fishing tournaments can minimize fish mortality by maintaining healthy oxygen and water quality in their livewells. A few ways to do this are:
Knowing the capacity of the livewell and not exceeding a ratio of more than 1 pound of bass per gallon of water;
Running a recirculating pump continuously if more than 5 pounds of bass are in the livewell;
Using aerators or oxygen-injection systems to keep the water’s oxygen level above 5 parts per million (ppm); and
Keeping livewell water about 5 degrees below the reservoir or river temperature by adding block ice.
Waters also recommends that tournament participants fill their weigh-in bags with livewell water, not reservoir or river water, before putting in their catch. They should put only five fish in a bag, fewer if the fish exceed 4 pounds each. Finally, they should limit the amount of time that fish are held in bags to less than 2 minutes.
Fishing tournament organizers can do their part to help keep fish alive by adopting best handling practices at all events. These include staggering weigh-in times to reduce the time fish are held in weigh-in bags, arranging for release boats to return bass quickly to the water and equipping recovery stations with oxygen and recirculating water. Organizers also can provide holding tanks during the weigh-in with water 5 degrees below the reservoir or river temperature and with oxygen levels above 5 ppm. They also can reduce the number of competitive fishing hours.
An alternative to the traditional weigh-in tournament is to conduct a “paper tournament,” which doesn’t require a weigh-in. “This is an especially helpful strategy during periods of extreme heat,” Waters added.
More information on keeping bass alive, including the B.A.S.S.-produced publication, “Keeping Bass Alive: A Guidebook for Tournament Bass Anglers and Organizers,” is available on the Commission’s website, www.ncwildlife.org/fishing. The Commission has produced a “Keeping Bass Alive” card, suitable for downloading and printing that provides tips for both recreational and tournament anglers.