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Angler and TV personality Don Meissner holding a smallmouth bas. Photo courtesy St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce
Angler and TV personality Don Meissner holding a smallmouth bas. Photo courtesy St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce

Seven ways to keep bass safe when angling

With so much snow on the ground, bass fishing might seem far away, but for anglers it's always time to think about bass fishing. New research that finds the increase in catch and release bass fishing tournaments stresses fish got us thinking about ways to do it most safely. Here are some tips from B.A.S.S., the organization that puts on tournaments like last year's Bassmasters Elite in Waddington, NY.

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Nora Flaherty
Digital Editor, News

1. Land fish quickly; don't play them to exhaustion.

2. Protect the slime coat. Fish secrete a protective "slime" (mucus) as a barrier to disease. They'll be much safer if you do everything you can to avoid damaging the coat.

This means touching the fish as little as possible, and when you do, touching them only with wet hands. When holding the bass, grasp the lower jaw. This should immobilize the fish, provide a good, firm hold, and allow you to remove hooks without touching the body. Once it's in the boat, hold it vertically and touch it elsewhere as little as possible. If it's a large fish, support it horizontally with a hand under the anal fin. Never bend the head down or try to hold the fish horizontally by the jaw.

Don't swing or flip fish into the boat and onto the floor, and consider using a rubber or nylon landing net.

3. Be careful when removing the hook, and use barbless or circular hooks whenever you can. For years, common wisdom said it was best to just leave a hook in a deeply-hooked fish, because the metal would rust away. Recent studies show this isn't always the case; it's best to remove hooks as quickly as possible, and with as little tissue damage as possible.

To accomplish this, you can use long-nosed pliers, a hemostat or a hook removing tool. Learn the hook-reversal technique where you pull the eye of the hook out the gill opening toward the tail; this reverses the hook bend and allows for easy extraction through the mouth using long-nosed pliers.

How to avoid hook injury. Image from "Keeping Bass Alive"
How to avoid hook injury. Image from "Keeping Bass Alive"
4. Keep fish out of the air as much as possible. Needless to say, air exposure is stressful for fish, whether it's during landing, unhooking, measuring, bagging, or the weigh-in. Unhook fish quickly and measure them on a wet measuring board or rule; and then place them in an already-filled livewell.

Determine immediately which fish you'll keep, and which ones you'll release. Plan accordingly. Limit air exposure to no longer than you could hold your breath, because that's exactly what a fish out of water is doing.

5. Learn to spot swim bladder overinflation, and use side fizzing to relieve the condition.

6. Don't release fish into stagnant backwaters and high-traffic areas. And don't release fish or those too weak to swim – it's better to harvest those.

7. Keep your livewell safe, and don't overfill it. Make sure your livewell doesn't have any obstructions or fittings that could injure fish in it. Measure the capacity, and don't put in more than one pound of bass per gallon of water. Distribute fish between livewells or livewell compartments to reduce crowding and stress. Keep the oxygen level in the livewell above 5pm, and keep it well aerated.

Fill your livewell at your first fishing spot of the day, from an open area, not a stagnant backwater, slough or a boat launch site. (Much more on livewell management.)

Sources: Keeping Bass Alive, from B.A.S.S. (also here); B.A.S.S. pocket guide to Keeping Bass Alive;

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