Bring 'Em Back Alive!
A long time tournament angler, I still remember one of the key aspects of competitive angling that drew me to the sport and that is the “live release” aspect of it! Catching a trophy fish in a tournament is a huge adrenaline rush but knowing that it is going to be released to fight another day is even more important!

As tournament anglers, the vast majority of us do everything possible to keep our limit alive and healthy, Not only do we not wish to incur any “dead fish” penalties. which in itself can be proved to be costly, but we also immensely respect the fish species that we pursue!

Honestly, no one feels as bad as I do when we lose a fish for whatever reason! Just as sometimes fish happen to get off, sometimes in spite of everything that you do they just don’t make it! In competitive tournaments it can cost you dearly if you have a fish die during competition. My partner at the time Rob Lee & I won a two-day Chevy Mercury event by 0.20 Ibs over the second-place team. We didn’t realize until later that the second- place team incurred a 0.25 Ibs. penalty on the first day. If they hadn’t we would have been second by 0.05 Ibs.

Last year during a B1 event my partner, Oliver Grigull and I came in 90 minutes early because our livewell was acting up and we were concerned about the health of our fish. We ended up in 3rd place and wondered about what might have been if we had fished for another hour. Our fish were healthy and very frisky after sitting in the cool aerated troughs at the weigh-in. It was a very hot day and all of our ice was gone and one livewell pump was not functioning. We didn't want to risk a chance of losing any one of those beautiful smallmouth bass.

A working aerated livewell is a prerequisite in any live release tournament but that is the absolute minimum that your boat should have. Under cool spring or fall conditions, that is probably all that you need to keep your catch alive and healthy. But hot summer days. deep water and rough water conditions can all prove to be a challenge especially when it comes to dealing with smallmouth bass. There are quite a number of things that you can do and modifications that can be done to your livewells to ensure that you “Bring "Em Back Alive”!

One of the biggest issues with fish care these days is barotrauma which can be suffered by bass caught out of deep water or sometimes when caught out of just plain cold water! Barotrauma is caused by decompression as the fish is brought up quickly from the depths. Barotrauma is to bass as the “bends” are to divers. The pressure change as it is brought up causes the air bladder of the fish to over-inflate.

Signs of barotrauma include loss of equilibrium (fish will float belly up in the livewell), bloating, bulging eyes and hemorrhaging in the fins. Unlike some species of fish like lake trout, bass are unable to expel air from its air bladder on their own.

Suffering from barotrauma and floating at the surface unable to right itself and descend even if released is usually a death sentence ~ for bass. Barotrauma causes a fish a great deal of stress and weakens them to the point where they may just dic. There are a number of methods to deal with barotrauma, the first and least invasive is to apply fin clips (Weights with alligator clips) to the fish’s pelvic and anal fins. This can help with mild cases of barotrauma but more severe cases require fizzing of the fish!

Fizzing is done by inserting a 16-18-gauge hypodermic needle into the side of the bass suffering from barotrauma in order to release air from its overinflated air bladder. There are plenty of videos on-line that will help you learn how to fizz fish but the best one that I've seen is one done by Barb Elliott, the conservation director for the New York B.A.S.S. Federation.

When fizzing a Smallmouth Bass, you must be wary of removing too much gas from their air bladder. Remove just enough so that they can sit upright with minimum effort.

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Source: Just Fishing with "Big Jim McLaughlin
Author: David Chong

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