Tournament Fish Care Articles

WEBPAGE UPDATED             Tuesday  June 22, 2022
About the Politics and Public Relations of Bass Tournament Mortality

Achieving High Survival of Tournament-caught Black Bass: Past Efforts and Future Needs and Opportunities


Hal Schramm, U.S. Geological Survey, Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Mail Stop 9691, Mississippi State, MS 39762

Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. LLC, 3500 Blue Lake Drive, Suite 330, Birmingham, AL 35243

However, our conversations with an­glers and observations of tournament weigh ins suggest that there are “patches” of well-informed anglers and tournament organiz­ers who make significant efforts to maximize the survival of their catch; but there are many more that are not inclined to change pro­cedures, possibly because they do not see a need. Similarly, some tournament organizations are not willing to risk loss of participa­tion by imposing what they may see as excessive or unnecessary rules or restrictions on anglers. These observations apply to ama­teur as well as professional anglers and the organizations that host their tournaments.

The reluctance to change is understandable. Stressors, such as low dissolved oxygen or chemical wastes, and essential physiologi­cal functions, such as osmoregulation and metabolic recovery, are invisible to anglers. Further, and perhaps more important, anglers do not see the mortality that occurs one to several days after the tournament has ended, so the concept of delayed mortality is very much out of sight and out of mind.

Although potential overharvest was an initial fear among fisheries managers (Schramm et al. 1991), no declines in black bass populations have been attributed to tournaments.

­ Because there is little concern that tournament mortal­ity causes overharvest, there is no compelling biological need to improve bass survival. And since many anglers and tournament organizers are reluctant to put forth additional effort, it is reason­able to question whether agencies should expend resources on additional research, education, and outreach. In addition, tourna­ment anglers and organizations frequently oppose biologically and socially justified harvest regulations if they are perceived to inter­fere with the numbers of fish brought to weigh in at conventional weigh-in tournaments (Schramm and Hunt 2007, Driscoll et al. 2012). This is particularly true for regulations such as protected slot limits and maximum length limits intended to provide tourna­ment and non-tournament anglers with larger black bass, regula­tions that restructure black bass population size structure to make fisheries attractive to tournaments.

Reasons for attempting to change angler and tournament-or­ganizer behavior and improve survival of tournament-caught bass also has a social component. High mortality should be a concern of fisheries management agencies because the agency will be im­plicated for allowing poorly organized and run events. However, the benefits of high survival also accrue to tournament anglers and tournament organizations. Tournaments that kill high numbers of fish risk being denied permits in the states that have a permit system. They also risk being banned from access sites by local or municipal leaders and are likely to find local merchants uncooper­ative.

This would be disastrous to large tournament organizations that rely on local citizenry, businesses, and government financial support, lodging and special facilities, and attracting spectators that sponsors expect to see at weigh-ins.

The economic impact of tournament fishing is still another im­portant consideration when imposing procedures to attain high survival of tournament-caught black bass. A single professional-level tournament can generate over $1 million in economic im­pacts to a local economy (M. Mulone, B.A.S.S., personal communi­cation).

Lower-tier tournaments also are economically significant. Total tournament-related angler expenditures were 74% of total angler annual expenditures of $32 million on Lake Sam Rayburn, Texas (Driscoll and Myers 2014).

Agencies are caught in a quan­dary. How do they encourage or regulate tournaments to minimize bass mortality without forcing tournament organizers to take their events elsewhere, thus hurting local economies?

Future Efforts

A question that remains is how to ensure that educational ef­forts are effective in achieving higher survival so both tourna­ments and fisheries managers can minimize negative public senti­ment and black bass resources can benefiit. We suggest that there are three choices, and they are not mutually exclusive: (1) make it the right thing to do (i.e., rely on peer pressure), (2) impose regula­tions, and (3) provide incentives.

Peer pressure is a powerful force, particularly among anglers; indeed, this is how the strong catch-and-release ethic developed among bass anglers and tournaments. A group of iconic profes­sional anglers promoting good fish care and speaking out against poorly organized tournaments may stimulate action, creating a snowball effect and affecting change.

Further, studies by Gilliland (2000) and Schramm et al. (2006) have demonstrated that mortality can be reduced by anglers implementing simple livewell management pro­cedures during summer tournaments; thus high water temperature is not an excuse for high mortality, and best-case survival should be considered in setting allowable mortality standards.

**Despite more than three decades of research on mortality of tournament-caught black bass, information about factors affect­ing mortality needed to provide a basis for establishing reason­able maximum mortality is lacking. Recent research on mortal­ity of tournament-caught walleye (Sander vitreum) may serve as a model. As is the case with black bass, various factors have been suggested or found to be associated with walleye mortality, but water temperature is dominant. A threshold temperature (18 C) [64.4 F] was identified above which walleye mortality was high despite pro-active livewell management (Schramm et al. 2010, Loomis et al. 2013). Managers in Minnesota and South Dakota have used these data to set maximum acceptable mortality thresholds and do not allow live-release walleye tournaments during summer months. Managers in Minnesota and South Dakota have used these data to set maximum acceptable mortality thresholds and do not allow live-release walleye tournaments during summer months. Tournaments are allowed, but all fish must be harvested.

As there is no biological evidence that the harvest adversely affects walleye populations, the burden of social concerns transfers from the state fisheries agency to the tournament organization. Similar data are needed for black bass populations to provide a basis for reasonable maximum mortality and to better identify, and possibly simplify, livewell management and tournament organization procedures.

Species-specific research is needed to determine factors affect­ing survival and the effectiveness of current state-of-the-art fish care procedures across the genus. Most studies have focused on largemouth bass, but many tournaments are held in areas where other species of black bass are caught. The few studies that have examined mortality of other black bass species have provided sobering results. Assessment of mortality of tournament-caught black bass in Lake Martin, Alabama, found mortality of Alabama bass (Micropterus henshalli; 62%) was twice as high as largemouth bass (Ricks 2006).

Results from studies in the northeastern United States estimated tournament mortality of smallmouth bass (Mi­cropterus dolomieu) was twice that of largemouth bass (Hartley and Moring 1995, Edwards et al. 2004). These studies were done in the northern part of this species’ range. Mortality could be more severe in the southern portion of the smallmouth bass’ range where water temperatures are higher.

Tournament anglers are often quick to adopt products and pro­cedures that increase their efficiency and the survival of fish. Nu­merous livewell additives are available to anglers. Commonly used devices used for identifying individual fish (“culling clips”) use a wire clip that is inserted through gular membranes leaving a large hole or tear than may interfere with feeding or ventilation (breath­ing). As an alternative to fizzing to relieve barotrauma symptoms (hyperbuoyancy), anglers may use weighted clips attached to the anal fin of fish exhibiting hyperbuoyancy with the idea being that the weight will keep the fish in an upright position in the livewell, thus reducing stress and making the fish more likely to be able to swim back to depth after release. Despite marketing claims, scien­tific evidence is lacking about the actual effect on survival of these and other products and procedures, and studies are warranted so fisheries agencies can make authoritative statements about their suitability for improving the survival of angler-caught fish.


What happens to bass after the Classic weigh-in? Published March 3, 2016

[The environmental water temperature March 4th at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees is comparable to the northern US lake water and Ontario’s summer environmental waters where Dr. Cory does his research on environmental water quality conditions.]

“Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees and Tulsa, Okla., will host a return visit of the Bassmaster Classic, beginning March 4. As B.A.S.S. conservation director, the single most common question I get from fans about this event is, “What happens to the bass after the weigh-in?”

When the 2013 [Bassmaster] Classic was in Tulsa, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation assisted with the return of each day’s catch to Grand Lake. That year we released 100% of the bass that were caught during the tournament. We set the bar as high as it could go.

The livewell pumps in fresh, 43-degree Grand Lake water. That cool water temperature is critical to the rest of this story. Cooler water slows your metabolism, reduces stress and carries more life-sustaining oxygen.

In you go. This feels like home already. The biologists infuse pure oxygen into the water to help you de-stress. And the water is cooled to the same temperature as the lake, so there will be no shock when you are released.”

The water temp is 43F in March at Grand Lake and fishery biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are using pure 100% oxygen to insure minimal safe oxygenation to transport these tournament bass from Tulsa to Grand Lake every day. Their tournament mortality was -0- in the dead of winter.

How many bass tournaments do you know of or even fish in that are held the end of February-early March in the dead of winter when it’s cold, rainy or snowing? I bet not many.

A more serious question may be, “What really happens to the bass in a 7-8 hour, 100F July-August bass tournament in a bass boat livewell while the tournament catch is in the fisherman’s possession on his bass boat?

Clearly here is an excellent sales opportunity for a direct sales call for a seasoned saleswoman right here right now this summer. A couple vents is a hundred dollars cheaper than the compressed oxygen systems these state fishery biologists are using today.

Maybe, if these fishery biologist in Oklahoma only knew about your air vents they would buy booku’s for their live haul trailers and get rid of their expensive, dangerous O2 tank rigs they are currently using on their hatchery live haul trucks. They this could spread to every fish hatchery in the US—and then, the world. You could become wealthy and retire beginning with 1 sales call to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, if their biologist will buy the importance of air vents.

Dr. Cory Suski is an associate professor in the Department of natural Resourced and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign.

His research lab can be defined as ‘ecological physiology’. Dr. Cory combines lab and field studies to determine the ecological and physiological mechanisms the control abundance and distribution in freshwater organisms.

Freshwater fishes are an ideal model system for this research because their diversity and abundance provides me with opportunity to examine these issues while considering evolutionary and trophic relationships.

Dr. Cory’s research is grounded in basic biology, many of his work projects generate novel stratagies to protect freshwater eco-systems. Freshwater fishes are ideal model systems for his research because their diversity and abundance provide him with an opportunity to examine these issues while considering evolutionary and trophy relationships.

No disrespect for Dr. Cory’s excellent research in the environmental steady state, but live fish transport practiced by all private fish hatcheries, State and federal fish hatcheries in America is not even close to the environmental steady state conditions Dr. Cory works with.

Summer bass tournament live fish transport by fishermen is polar different when it comes to a fisherman ensuring minimal safe water quality during an acute hostile event lasting 7-8 hours in 100F summer US temperatures common in southern States.

High stress traumatic capture with hook and line, the fight to exhaustion in the southern US in July-August, then 7-8 hours transport in a small bass boat livewell in 100F August weather is definitely nothing that resembles any low to no stress environmental eco-system steady state conditions in cold water aquatic lake environment in Ontario Canada or Illinois with cool summer water temps. Although I do not have a Ph.D. in fish physiology or ecological physiology, the difference in a no stress steady state lake environment and traumatic capture of wild mature gamefish and all-day live transport in a bass boat livewell is crystal clear to me.