Keeping Fish Alive
Updated: Feb 12
While finding and catching fish is our specialty here at New Wave Fishing Academy Tournament fishing is not something we have as much experience in. Unlike normal days on the water where immediate catch and release is practiced tournament fishing poses additional challenges for anglers in maintaining the health of their fish throughout the day until weigh ins are complete. During the hot summer months this becomes especially challenging and can be extremely difficult if fish are caught early in the morning, out of deep water, or in extremely warm water especially after riding around in the livewell all day!
In this past weekends Huron Bass Tour event we experienced these challenges and ended up having one fish die and two others struggling while waiting for the weigh in. Not only did we feel terrible for having a quality fish die but it dropped us from 1st into 3rd place due to the dead fish penalty. We have the utmost respect for fish and never want this to happen again moving forward so we took it as a learning opportunity and chance to share what we've learned with all of you. After some extensive research & speaking with tournament professionals here are the important considerations and best ways to keep fish alive & healthy during your tournaments:
Special attention and concern for storing fish in livewells needs to be on the top of your priority list once water temperatures increase over 70 F. At this temperature most fish become stressed and unable to recover well. If the lake temperature is over this level your livewell temperature is as well since it sucks from the just below the surface. The fish likely came out of water deeper and cooler than this and so the warm water will make it difficult for them to recover.
The best way to regulate the temperature of the water in your livewell is to add ice! Ice will melt and cool the water down at the same time. Adding ice the livewell at the start of the day before you fill it, filling it when the water is at its coolest point of the day, and then not adding any additional water will allow the temperature to reach a minimum for the day. Trying to cool it down partway through the day is much more difficult and will take longer to cool down. Adding ice thoughout the day will also help to maintain the temperature at lower levels. This will require carrying a cooler with more ice while your on the water!
Caution: Depending on the ice being used it can contain fluoride and/or chlorine ions. These are poisonous to fish and can also cause them to die. Rather than buying store bought ice bags it is best to use spring/tapwater in a solid plastic container (like a 1 L gatorade bottom or 2L juice container or Ice Packs) that will not melt into the water the fish are swimming in. instead the ice will melt and be isolated in the container you brought it in. This allows you to swap the ice packs in and out with ease and lets you re-freeze at home to save some money at the store as well!
2. Oxygen Levels
Fish get their oxygen from the water they are in. There is only a limited amount of oxygen in water and so the oxygen can become depleted in your livewell over time. This means the fish can drown without adding more oxygen! When pumping water into or recirculating water in the livewell it shoots out of the nozzle creating disturbances at the waters surface. This turbulence allows oxygen to diffuse into the water more easily. Water that is colder can hold a higher concentration of oxygen and so will be best to keep in your livewell. This is where adding ice in the morning and filling when water temperatures are cool comes into play!
If your boat is equipped with a recirc function this will allow you to maintain the water in your livewell without adding water warm water from the surface of the lake that holds less oxygen or increasing water temperature. To properly recirc be sure to close off your overflow (may need a plug) so that the cold water can't escape either!
If your boat is like mine and only has a pump water in function it would be beneficial to get a secondary pump to add into the livewell specifically for recirculating water if you plan to continue doing tournaments in the warmer months.
Just like humans create waste so do fish. Fish waste contains ammonia which becomes poisonous to fish in high enough concentrations. The longer and more fish that are in the livewell the more ammonia that will accumulate. Additives can be used to help remove the ammonia as it accumulates throughout the day to ensure your fish stay healthy! Some examples of additives are listed below with links to where they can be bought.
T-H Marine G-Juice: (http://goo.gl/taa773)
Please Release Me: (http://goo.gl/J35usC)
4. Fizzing Alternatives
The warmer months tend to drive fish into deep water. Catching fish from deep water can cause them to experience barotrauma where their air bladder expands and makes it impossible for them to keep themselves upright or return to the depths. Depending on the severity of the barotrauma the fish may or may not be able to recover on its own in the livewell. Fizzing is a technique that some use to help avoid this issue and is discussed in our blog post here: www.newwavefishingacademy.com/post/fizzing-fish. From our standpoint this should be used as a last resort as you are damaging their most important organ which has unknown consequences and it is very difficult to do correctly if you are inexperienced with it.
In the event that you do need to keep fish and they are having a hard time uprighting themselves some safer alternatives to fizzing can be tried first! Clipping heavy weights on the fins along the belly of a bass or lip can help them sit upright in the livewell, which is the most ideal resting position for a bass to orient and breathe well. If a fish is constantly trying to right itself, it quickly wears out and can die. So while this may not give it the ability to relieve the barotrauma at least it will not be exhausting itself as it sits in the livewell.
See the link here for some fin clips we found online! http://flipclipfishing.com/
All in, the best way to keep fish healthy and alive is to practice catch and release! Avoiding scheduling tournaments in the hottest parts of the summer or allowing alternative weigh in systems like early check in or picture on scale & immediate release can help to avoid fish being killed. If you are competing in future tournaments we hope these tips and information will allow you keep your fish healthy and swim away to be caught another day.