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while fully sup­port­ing both fish­ing for the ta­ble and catc­hand-re­lease sea an­gling, in all cases BASS asks an­glers to treat fish with re­spect. As a re­sult, this ar­ti­cle deals pri­mar­ily with car­ing for bass that will be re­leased and en­sur­ing we do not con­trib­ute un­nec­es­sar­ily to post-re­lease mor­tal­ity.

Catch­ing and re­leas­ing fish in­evitably causes some de­gree of harm, whether stress or phys­i­cal dam­age, but it’s my eth­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity as a sea an­gling guide to pro­mote best prac­tice so that when fish are re­turned they have the best chance of sur­vival. Equally, if you choose to keep a bass for the ta­ble dur­ing the “take” months (within cur­rent size and bag lim­its), it is im­por­tant to dis­patch the fish hu­manely.

Of course, us­ing un­hook­ing mats and keep­ing fish sub­merged of­ten isn’t prac­ti­cal or safe when fish­ing on the coast. But it’s easy to fol­low a few sim­ple guide­lines to im­prove the sur­vival rate of bass. This is my per­sonal take on things, in­formed by my work as a zo­ol­o­gist in Newquay, Corn­wall.

10 SiM­Ple StePS... 1 Mod­ify tackle:

Crush the hook barb’s with a pair of pli­ers. A well-played fish can be landed with­out barbs. Many an­glers re­place tre­ble hooks on lures with specif­i­cally de­signed sin­gles be­cause the hook-up rate is very sim­i­lar, but fish are eas­ier to un­hook.

2 Tackle main­te­nance:

Re­plac­ing rusty/blunt hooks in­creases hook-up rate and avoids snap­ping-off and leav­ing a nasty bit of metal in a fish. Re­plac­ing 10ft of line and re-ty­ing a leader avoids those weak­nesses in line/ leader caused by gen­eral use lead­ing to snap-offs while play­ing fish and cast­ing.

3 Land­ing fish:

Con­sider how you in­tend to land a hooked fish be­fore cast­ing. This is eas­ily done while wad­ing in an es­tu­ary or a surf beach, but snaggy rock marks, where lift­ing a good fish will re­sult in the line snap­ping, is more daunt­ing with swell wash­ing around the rocks. Have a plan, maybe agree with your fish­ing buddy to help each other. With a bit of prac­tise, land­ing nets can be in­valu­able in these sit­u­a­tions, but be pre­pared to have a trial run.

4 Han­dling bass:

Armed with spiny dor­sal fins and sharp gill plates, bass do their best to roll or freeze, with sharp points ex­posed mak­ing safe han­dling dif­fi­cult. It’s of­ten eas­i­est to grip the hook shank with pli­ers and turn it out with­out touch­ing the fish, es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive while wad­ing – the fish never leaves the water. The safest way to han­dle and re­strain a bass is by gen­tly in­sert­ing a thumb into its mouth and clamp­ing the lower jaw with your fore­fin­ger. It’s im­por­tant to sup­port the rest of the fish’s body with your other hand. Not sup­port­ing its body re­sults in un­nec­es­sary strain on the fish’s jaw.

5 Carry like a baby:

Avoid leav­ing fish to flap about on rocks or sand. En­sure you know where your equip­ment is ac­ces­si­ble, keep in mind what your prize bass is do­ing, and stay fo­cussed as it’s likely to try to es­cape and may in­jure it­self. Lay­ing the fish on seaweed or in a shal­low rock pool helps. When hold­ing a fish, kneel close to the ground so when the fish starts flap­ping around, it’s only a short dis­tance if you drop it.

6 Un­hook the fish first:

It avoids the fish fur­ther hook­ing it­self or your­self, and can be the long­est part of the re­turn process.

7 Learn how your cam­era works:

Set the timer (say, for three shots af­ter five sec­onds, 12 shots in 20 sec­onds, if pos­si­ble) and then you’re run­ning back to the sea for the re­lease. Con­sider re­turn­ing sub­se­quent fish straight away with­out pho­tograph­ing if you’ve al­ready got some good pic­tures.

8 Don’t tar­get small fish:

It can be dif­fi­cult fish­ing through a shoal of tiny bass in the hope of a big­ger one, but con­sider a change of tac­tics/lures to avoid them. Af­ter all, they are the fu­ture breed­ing stock (and a fish of un­der 42cm won’t have had the chance to spawn even once). I know an­glers who go home if they’re be­ing plagued by schoolies. In­evitably, small fish get hooked, play these quickly and re­turn them.

9 Get tooled up:

Don’t even think about leav­ing the house with­out a pair of pli­ers. You’re not get­ting hooks out of spiky bass with­out them. Fish grips, love them or hate them, in the right hands and used cor­rectly are a valu­able piece of kit. Gen­tly grip­ping the lower lip while sup­port­ing the fish’s body can save your thumb from get­ting hooked, and give that ex­tra space for re­mov­ing the hooks, lim­it­ing po­ten­tial dam­age to both fish and an­gler.

10 The re­lease:

Make it as easy as pos­si­ble for the fish, and as safe as pos­si­ble for your­self. Where pos­si­ble, fish should be held up­right in the water and re­leased when ready. Although this isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble and safe, in­stead of throw­ing or drop­ping a bass, con­sider low­er­ing it back down in your net. Of­ten re­turn­ing fish is dan­ger­ous; al­ways err on the side of cau­tion. If it is too rough to get close to the sea, maybe leave a fish in a rock pool that will soon be cov­ered by the tide.

We all know the shorter the time a fish spends out of water the bet­ter – some sci­en­tists sug­gest 30 sec­onds or less. Fish are de­signed to be sus­pended in water, and while gaseous ex­change will oc­cur as long as the gills are wet, en­vi­ron­men­tal pres­sure on the fish’s mus­cle fi­bres and vi­tal or­gans will im­pact on the speed of the fish’s re­cov­ery. Re­cent stud­ies have suggested a very low mor­tal­ity for bass re­leased by recre­ational an­glers.

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