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Handling Tips for summer anglers
with Gene Gilliland

August, 2001
Excerpted from the ODWC July 25, 2001 Newsletter

Summer is here and high temperatures have locked in all across the Sooner state. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation wants to remind sportsmen that the heat can take its effects on anglers and the sportfish they pursue.

"Water temperatures are warming up very quickly," said Gene Gilliand, fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Department. "It is very important that anglers use extreme caution handling any fish they plan to return to the water this time of year. But, largemouth bass are the biggest concern because they are our most popular sportfish and many bass tournaments are held throughout the summer."

Bass anglers must take special care to ensure the health and safety of the fish they catch and the future of the resource, Gilliand added. Most tournament organizations have strict rules regarding the careful handling of fish, but severe summer weather and hot water conditions are extremely dangerous for fish kept in livewells for several hours before a weigh-in.

A study conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has shown that an average 28 percent of bass caught during summer tournaments die within six days of their release. Gilliand said that most tournament anglers are very concientious about protecting bass resources, but 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. We can't eliminate those conditions, of course, but we can take certain steps to lessen fish mortality during tournaments."

Anglers can increase the survival rates of any fish by following these suggested handling tips.

* Moisten your hands before handling a fish.

* Release any fish you don't plan to keep as soon as possible.

* Gently place the fish back into the water.

* Fill your livewell as soon as you launch your boat and activate the aerator to build up dissolved oxygen levels.

* Run your aerator continuously, no matter what time of year. Fish in livewells use oxygen faster than an aerator can replace it.

* Add ice to the livewell. When water surface temperatures are higher than 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 it 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 at least half of the livewell water two or three times daily to remove ammonia. Add additional ice and salt, and then resume re-circulation.

* Commercial livewell additives help calm fish in livewells, helping reduce stress and decreasing their oxygen respiratory rates.

Gilliland adds that the ultimate fish care system involves the use of pure oxygen supplied from a pressurized cylinder through a bubble hose in the live well.

A simple livewell oxygen setup can be built from a small bottle used by welders fitted with a regulator. Commercial systems are also available that are specifically designed for boat livewells and live bait tanks.

Tests have shown that these systems help reduce mortality even further, especially when used in conjunction with other handling tips.

To learn more about the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation or fishing in Ok-lahoma, log onto the Department's Web site at




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