- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Auburn University's Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquaculture has taken a big step toward answering a question that has bothered fisheries scientists for some time. It concerns the delayed mortality in catch-and-release bass tournaments. In simpler language, what happens when a fish is turned loose after spending a half day or more in tight confinement on a boat in something known as a livewell?

Working with American Bass Anglers Inc., a national tournament organization based in Athens, Ala., the university and the Alabama Fisheries Department conducted a controlled delayed mortality study following last month's ABA National Championship on Wheeler Lake in the northern part of the state.

During the three-day tournament, the competitors weighed in 2,880 bass, and tournament officials subsequently released 2,840 live bass. (The remaining 40 apparently died in boat livewells or in land-based holding tanks before they were properly weighed and tallied.)

Of the 2,840 bass released into Wheeler Lake, 98.6 percent survived during the relatively brief time they were observed. But despite such high marks for a catch-and-release tournament, the Auburn and Alabama fisheries people wanted to determine if the survival was a lasting one. They collected 50 bass from the tournament weigh site and picked up an additional 50 bass with a state-owned electroshock boat. The shocked-up bass were not part of the tournament catch.

The 100 fish were then transported to a state hatchery in Carbon Hill, Ala., where all the electroshocked bass were tagged for identification purposes before being released into a test pond.

After 10 days, the pond was drained and all the bass were collected. According to Auburn research associate Jeff Slitke, the results were impressive.

Only three of the tournament-caught bass had died, which, said Slitke, "is about as good as it can get; almost unheard of in catch-and-release tournament conditions."

The American Bass Anglers then enlisted the assistance of freshwater biologist Jimmy Yarbrough to develop a tournament weigh system to ensure the highest possible survival rate. Yarbrough developed a set of guidelines for American Bass Anglers members as standards for proper fish care.

Yarbrough, who received considerable help from Gene Gilliland of the Oklahoma Fishery Research Lab, and Hal Schramm of Mississippi State University, refined the ABA's contest weigh methods. Gilliland and Schramm long have been recognized for dedicating quite a bit of research and study to the survival of catch-and-release bass.

A procedure that calls for the use of a salt dip immediately after the weighing of tournament-caught fish is believed to be one reason for the positive results of the Carbon Hill pond study. The salt dip is an old technique used by hatchery operators to increase survival when moving brood fish. According to Yarbrough, salt stimulates the fish's mucus cells and causes the bass to secrete mucus and replenish their protective slime coat. The salt dip also kills parasites and fungi.

"Bass under stress in a livewell absorb water," said Gilliland, "and the salt dip dehydrates them and pulls out toxins."

The solution used in the salt dip is made by adding 3.5 pounds of un-iodized salt to 15 gallons of lake water. The bass are placed in a basket and dipped in the salt solution for no more "than 10 to 15 seconds," said Yarbrough. The bass are released immediately after being dipped.

Of course, additional help is provided at an ABA weigh-in through the use of large aerated water tanks into which the fish are deposited to help them recover from the rigors of being transported in a small livewell and then being transported in water-filled bags from the boats to the weigh stand.

The ABA's efforts have received much praise, and the hope is that all tournament groups might begin the salt dip procedure. For more information, call the American Bass Anglers at 888/203-6222 or visit the ABA's Web site at www.AmericanBassAnglers.com.

Having said all this, sport anglers should always remember this sort of thing would still be in the future if it hadn't been for the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS), Ray Scott, who cajoled an entire nation of fishermen into catch-and-release practices starting in 1972. A big salute to Scott is in order.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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