Bass tournaments are an important part of the fishing scene, but anglers must take special care to ensure the health and safety of the fish they catch.
During the summer, scorching hot air temperatures elevate water temperatures, creating lethal conditions for largemouth bass in a captive environment. Most tournament organizations have strict rules regarding the careful handling of fish. Still, severe summer weather and hot water conditions are extremely dangerous for fish kept in livewells for several hours before experiencing the trauma of a weigh-in.
Of course, most bass caught during tournaments are released alive, but legitimate concerns have arisen over delayed mortality. A study by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has shown that an average of 28 percent of bass caught during summer tournaments die within six days of release. Gene Gilliland, a fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Department, said that most tournament anglers are very conscientious about protecting bass resources. Still, many are not equipped to deal with potentially dangerous conditions that accompany summer tournament fishing.
"The last thing a tournament angler or tournament director wants is to kill fish," Gilliland said. "That's something they've tried to be very careful about over the years, and for the most part, they've been successful, but summer fishing presents some unique conditions that can cause a potentially lethal amount of stress on fish. Of course, we can't eliminate those conditions, but we can take certain steps to lessen fish mortality during tournaments."
Most of the damage occurs while fish are held in livewells. On-board livewells are among the most important tools ever devised for reducing tournament bass mortality. Still, confinement in a livewell can spell a death sentence for bass in the summer. Built into the hulls of most bass boats, livewells consist of a small tank equipped with an aerator to pump air into the water. However, the decks of most boats are covered with dark carpet, which absorbs the heat of direct sunlight. As a boat hull heats up during the day, it can turn a livewell into a makeshift broiler, and the effects worsen with the pounding a boat takes while underway.
To provide more livable conditions for bass confined in a livewell during the summer, Gilliland makes the following recommendations.
Tips For Handling Summer Bass
- Fill your livewell as soon as you launch your boat and turn on the aerator to build up dissolved oxygen levels.
- Run your aerator continuously, no matter what time of year. Fish confined in livewells use oxygen faster than an aerator can replace it.
- Add ice to the livewell. When water surface temperatures exceed 85 degrees, adding ice will reduce the water temperature in a livewell by 10 degrees.
- Use block ice if possible. It melts slower than crushed or cubed ice and cools water more evenly. One eight-pound block will cool a 30-gallon livewell for about three hours. Carry extra blocks in an ice chest to use later.
- Add non-iodized salt, 1/3 cup per five gallons of livewell capacity, to help reduce stress on fish.
- Re-circulate water through your aerator rather than pump in hot surface water.
- Replace half of the livewell water twice daily to remove ammonia. Add additional ice and salt, and then resume recirculation.
- Commercial livewell additives help calm fish in livewells, helping reduce stress and decreasing their respiratory oxygen rates.