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Summer time tips for handling bass

Nothing says summer quite like a day on the water trying to catch a lunker largemouth bass. Many Oklahoma anglers also enjoy the camaraderie and competition of bass tournaments.

A mid-summer day can be scorching hot. And just as fishermen take extra precautions such as wearing sunscreen or drinking plenty of fluids, anglers should also take extra care of their catch of the day.

Most tournament organizations have strict rules regarding the careful handling of fish, but during August and early September, warm water temperatures can create dangerous conditions for largemouth bass in a livewell. Most anglers are very conscientious about protecting bass resources, but it is important that anglers be particularly careful during the heat of the summer, according to Gene Gilliland, senior fisheries biologist at the Wildlife Department’s Oklahoma Fisheries Research Laboratory.

"Anglers and tournament directors have been very careful over the years to ensure that the fish are released in the best shape possible,” Gilliland said. “However, 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."

According to Gilliland, most of the danger occurs while fish are held in livewells. On-board livewells are among the most important tools ever devised for reducing tournament bass mortality, but long-term confinement in a livewell can be hazardous for bass in the summer.

To provide optimum livewell conditions for bass, Gilliland makes the following recommendations:

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

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

Add ice to the livewell. When water surface temperatures are higher than 75 degrees, adding ice will reduce the water temperature in a livewell by 10 degrees. 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 added that tournament directors can also take steps to keep bass healthy. He suggested the following recommendations for holding a fish-friendly tournament.

Shortening the duration of summer tournaments to reduce the time fish stay in livewells. Ideally, weigh-ins should be conducted before noon.

Staggering weigh-in times during night tournaments can help facilitate the rapid release of fish.

Avoid scheduling tournaments in months when water surface temperatures exceed 80 degrees.

For more information about tips for handling fish in the summer, log on to the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com/fishcare2.htm< or call the Oklahoma Fisheries Research Laboratory (405-325-7288) to request a free copy of the B.A.S.S. booklet "Keeping Bass Alive, A Guidebook for Anglers and Tournament Organizers."