By Dr. Hal Schramm

Summer is a stressful time for bass. There are things you can do to maximize the survival of the bass you catch. Recent research has shown that survival of angled bass can be 100% if the fish are handled carefully and quickly.

Do get the bass back in water ASAP

Bass, like you, need oxygen to survive. The air you breathe has 20% oxygen. We could also say air has 200,000 parts per million of oxygen. Bass get their oxygen from water that holds only 5 to 10 parts per million of oxygen. How they extract enough oxygen to live is the result of several amazing processes, but one reason a bass can extract sufficient oxygen from the water is the huge surface area of the gills ― many times the surface area of the fish’s body ― that puts the blood capillaries in close proximity to the oxygen-holding water. Those thin gill filaments you see (named primary lamellae) are only a small part of the surface area. Increasing the surface area are tissues only a couple cells thick ― the secondary lamellae ― that adorn the gill filaments you see. When the fish is out of water, the secondary lamellae collapse and no oxygen exchange occurs.

Don’t damage the mucus coat

Boat flipping a bass onto the carpet, gasping the body with dry hands, and knotted-twine dip nets remove mucus. The mucus is a marvelous defense system against pathogens. It also provides a barrier to prevent water from the environment flooding into the fish, which dilutes essential concentrations of salt inside the fish. Salt imbalance can be lethal. Preventing the imbalance elevates the bass’ metabolism to pump the water out.

Do manage live well temperature

You know to run your aerators continually when you have a good sack in the live well. But during the summer, especially as the cool of the morning is replaced by the heat of the afternoon and surface water temperatures climb, you are exposing the bass to potentially lethal conditions. Get a read on surface temperature first thing in the morning. That is the temperature you should maintain your live well all day. If you are catching bass deep from the thermocline where the water is cooler, keep the live well a little cooler. The easiest way to do this is carry frozen half gallon jugs of water and add one to the live well every couple hours (best to measure the temperature with a thermometer). The block ice melts slowly and keeps temperature steady. Run your aerators on recirculate.

Don’t punch holes in the bass’ mouth

Culling devices can be a good thing because they mean faster handling and less time out of water. But anything that pokes holes in the underside of the fish mouth creates a pathway for pathogens. The resulting holes and the big stringer clips used with some products may reduce the efficiency of pumping water over the gills. Culling devices are now available that clip onto the bass jaw that are less likely to injure the fish. Similarly, weighing scales that punch a hole in the fish or may tear a hole in the tissue around the lower jaw should be avoided.