Catch and Release Fishing Tournaments, The New B.A.S.S. Concept

WEBSITE UPDATED               Tuesday  June 22, 2022     

According to State Directors of Inland Fisheries, tournament bass mortality and bass tournament fish kills do not and have never negatively impacted bass fisheries in America to date. Our State Bass Fisheries are effectively managed by State Fish and Game Department and DNR professionals. Fisheries are continuously restocked with healthy supplies of new bass (financed by our tax dollars).

Inland fishing tournament organizations, tournament officials, boat and tackle manufacturer and the entire tournament fishing industry recognized these unlimited resources of black bass and other tournament species early on. The fishery resource is continuously managed by State game agencies, DNR’s, restocked as needed, unlimited and FREE.

The public relations focus of “catch and release” tournament bass fishing was and is, a public relations plot to avoid negative, bad public relations images of dead and dying tournament fish. A brilliant PR tactic to win the public’s hearts and minds about tournament fishing and prevent blow-back from dead and dying tournament fish people see floating up and stinking around boat ramps and beaches post tournament.

Others, the paying contestants (the fisherman) have a more realistic attitude considering the Catch and Release tournament ethic. Their goal is getting all their tournament catch to the weigh master with pink gills and gill plates moving and AVOID THE “DEAD FISH” PUNISHMENT in summer tournaments.

The tournament fisherman’s primary goal is winning the money and the prize which is the reason they compete in the contest. The whole point of this contest IS WINNING 1st place, not winning 2nd place, 3rd nor 4th place.

  B.A.S.S. – Ray Scott and “Bubba Power”

Ray Scott invented “Bubba Power.”  Get the good ol’ boys turned on to the bass fishing sport and make a lot of money off the [Bass] “Bubbas,” [and those air bubbles].  This proved to be a lucrative concept that made billions in profits for four decades. A new fishing industry was born – Tournament Bass Fishing for profit and fun called B.A.S.S.

“Catch and Release, how it all began,” Bill Dance Outdoors – Posted February 18, 2014

During the early days of B.A.S.S, 1971. , all the tournament bass were routinely killed, weighed and given to charities (feeding the hungry).   The bass kill during these fishing tournaments became a liability and a serious public relations problem when the locals started complaining.

Scott talked with Bob Cobb, and both agreed that something needed to be done to change the image of “boat loads of dead bass” the public saw at B.A.S.S. tournaments. They put their thinking caps on and…

Bob Cobb wrote a press release that beginning in 1972, the B.A.S.S. Catch and Release program would be initiated to release 90% of the tournament catch alive and which would improve the public relations image of tournament bass fishing.

They even invented and implemented a new bass tournament rule, the “dead-fish penalty.” Anglers were punished for every dead bass they presented to the weighmaster by weight reduction for each dead bass.   Their hope was this fine would motivate contestants to make some effort to keep their catch alive all day in bass boat livewells. The killer was that all-day ride in the anglers’ bass boat livewell where the fish suffocated.

The question and challenge for Scott and Cobb now – how do their members keep bass alive all day in their boat’s livewell? How are contestants going to keep bass alive after they are hooked, fought and landed then hauled all day (7-8 hours) in a bass boat livewell or ice chest?

So here’s what they decided… and it worked very well.

Scott contacted his buddy, Sam Spencer, with the Alabama Fish and Game Department. Scott wanted Sam’s expert advice about how to keep tournament caught bass alive during and after tournaments.  Both knew that bass needed dissolved oxygen, so they talked about [air] using small pumps for aerators, like small aquarium pumps that made [air] bubbles for aquarium fish [guppies, goldfish, clown fish, etc.]. They figured that when the air bubbles burst at the surface of the water, the air bubbles left dissolved oxygen in the water. Scott had an epiphany then, an acute awakening and said, “Then the secret is just putting [air] bubbles in the water.” Sam, Alabama Fish and Game Department replied, “the more [air] bubbles the better” and the race was on.

[It’s easy to confuse air with oxygen and nitrogen because these gases are all colorless, odorless and tasteless and they all make clear bubbles in livewell water.]

FACT: Oxygen is Not Air  ]

Scott and Sam both assumed that air bubbles made plenty of oxygen and air bubbles were the “key” to keeping tournament bass alive in bass boat livewells. Keeping fish alive and live release would solve this bad tournament PR image and make bass fishing tournaments acceptable to the public… this PR problem was solved.

Scott built a prototype spray bar aeration system with a round lawn sprinkler and garden hose that sprayed streams of water into the air. He attached the water sprinkler inside the bass boat livewell at the top. The water hose was attached to a bilge pump and the pump placed in the bottom of the livewell. The water was pumped through the sprinkler and jetted to the water surface, filled the livewell with [air] bubbles.  He claimed the new aeration device would ensure plenty of dissolved oxygen and livewell suffocation would be eliminated… the myth was born and not questioned for decades. Boat manufacturers, bass fishermen and the media bought and promoted this myth hook, line and sinker making millions of dollars.

At this time Ray Coyle, an engineer and member of B.A.S.S., modified Scotts’ water sprinkler aeration prototype with PVC pipe with holes bored in it and then claimed his new “aeration device raised the dissolved oxygen 300% more than lake water.”   This is when they began to use the words air and oxygen interchangeably, ignoring the fact that oxygen and air are two different gases.

Read the gas law and understand the science how gases that can be dissolved in water are limited:

Henry’s Gas Law –

[After all, without expensive scientific instrumentation, the average fishermen, politician or fishery biologist cannot tell the difference between air, nitrogen or oxygen because these gases are colorless, odorless and tasteless and all make bubbles in livewell water. So, who would ever question this or challenge their story?]

[The air bubble story was not scientifically challenged for 27 years from 1972 to 1999 when a savvy fishery biologist started testing bass boat livewell water at bass tournaments with his dissolved oxygen meter… and the air bubble myth was confirmed when the truth popped out, the DO meter exposed the truth about air bubbles and summer death well water quality…

Tournament fish were suffocating in bass boat livewells in summer tournaments by the thousands because of insufficient dissolved oxygen in livewell water.]

Their claim was, with anglers using their new aeration device, tournament bass kills could be reduced from 100% kill to only 10% kill… so that was their story and they have stuck to it over 4 decades. Tournament bass kills were and continue to be a fishing tournament public relations problem.

Email your State Fish and Game /DNR Director of your State’s Inland Fishery and ask two questions… (1) Do tournament bass kills negatively impact the state’s bass fishery? (2) Would the state’s bass fishery be negatively impacted if ALL the tournament bass were killed in every tournament in your state?

The Best Tournament Bass Care possible is not to suffocate the summer tournament catch in live release boat haul tanks, weigh-in holding tanks or angler bass boat livewells where the catch is confined for 7-8 hours on a summer day.  Chronic oxygen deprivation and 7–8-hour suffocation in a bass boat livewell has been scientifically proven to be the primary cause of Summer Bass Tournament Acute and Delayed Mortality.

In order to reduce their tournament bass kills, B.A.S.S./ESPN now hold the BassMaster Classic Tournament in February, the dead of winter when the environment water temperature is cold. There will be no more BassMaster Classic fishing tournaments in August, the hottest time of year—

This PR move based in scientific research and fishery science thanks to professionals like B.A.S.S. Conservation Director, Gene Gilliland,  and Dr. Hal Schramm, Jr. and many other professionals concerned and actively involved in new methods that improve summer tournament survival by reducing excessive summer tournament bass kills.