A look back through our archives.
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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