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Bass Fishermen are in Hot Water

By Steve Chaconas

Bass Fishermen are in Hot Water

It’s been a difficult tournament season, covid-shortened by Gov. Hogan’s recreational fishing ban. Many trails played catch up, having more tournaments in a shorter period of time, many during the hottest part of the season. With record heat in June and July, limiting bass tournaments during hot weather months was discussed by MD’s Black Bass Advisory Committee (BBAC) during a covid-free conference call.

A late June, out of state, 81 boat tournament prompted a lengthy discussion as reports of 65+ dead bass surfaced after the event. Chester County Bass Masters (CCBM) tournament director reported 6 dead fish the day of the tournament. But days following caught the attention of Maryland Bass Nation Conservation Director Scott Sewell. First 15-20 floaters were reported a few days later. Later that week around 65 dead bass were removed. BBAC has been concerned with out of state tournaments whose home states close their fisheries during spawning months, forcing anglers into MD waters.

Precautions have been placed by MD DNR for the Upper Bay, Anchor Marine with  a recovery tank, oxygen tank, and oxygen testing equipment. In addition, a chute was installed to take bass away from bulkheads, allowing them to disperse. Sewell would rather see DNR release trucks move fish to better release locations.

CCBM was aware of ideal water temperature and oxygen content, however these parameters were neglected during their disastrous weigh in. Sewell says putting fish in recovery tanks, without appropriate oxygen and temperature to recover, sentenced healthy fish to delayed mortality.

DNR permits tournaments conditionally. However warm weather guidelines don’t kick in until June 15. Sewell suggests they be based on water temperature and  DNR should provide staffers to observe. However this suggestion was shot down by DNR’s Bill Anderson who insisted staff only works Monday thru Friday. Sewell questioned that stance as staff time would be better used in the field and repeat violators should be fined or banned.

Tournament directors can’t take all blame. Sewell maintains anglers should be responsible for fish care. They aren’t running livewells continuously (worried about draining batteries), neglect icing water and aren’t draining and adding fresh water to stay 7 degrees cooler in summer months. Sewell is concerned Tournament Directors don’t check livewell operation, instead they focus on whether they’re empty. He’d also like to see livewell water temperatures taken prior to weigh in.

Hot weather presents livewell challenges. Putting bass into a hot box is like sitting in your car without AC. Freshwater Fisheries Program Manager Joe Love says fish are cold blooded and their internal temperatures are regulated by outside temperatures. Extra fish care is needed in hot weather. No prolonged selfies or laying fish on carpets, because fish will heat up, dry out and suffocate. Gill filaments that supply oxygen to fish don’t function correctly when dry.  Scales and skin mucus protect from infection.  If mucus dries, skin is compromised by handling and could create open wounds. When bass are in warm water with others, oxygen levels can plummet if not managed correctly. Love says fish subjected to low oxygen may not be dead, but they’re getting there.

DNR imposes special conditions between June 15th and October 31st for the Potomac and Upper Bay.  Anglers must have working live wells, use non-piercing cull clips, and keep bass in bags no longer than 2 minutes without refreshing water.  A penalty of at least 0.25 lbs. must be imposed on participants for each dead fish.  Anglers should ensure fish are recuperated before release, either returning them to livewells before release, using release boats, or release tanks with chutes.  Additional precautions include monitoring water and air temperature.  Frozen water jugs cool livewells.  Use re-circulation and water exchanges with cooler shaded waters.  Additional batteries can be used for livewells.  Jumper boxes can start outboards if batteries run low. A dissolved oxygen meter measures livewell oxygen levels.

Fish health isn’t always visible. Some are tougher than others but that shouldn’t lead to apathy.  Anglers cannot know whether their fish has LMBV or another physical stressor that could complicate handling.  Delayed mortality can appear a few days later when dead bass wash up on boat ramps. Weighing impacts of summer tournaments, BBAC will consider additional restrictions. This could include limiting possession, time of day, or whether hot water tournaments are allowed at all. Many clubs like Fish On Bass Anglers already self-impose restrictions.

Tournament angling has progressed from metal stringers to high tech livewell systems but, especially in summer months, it’s still up to anglers to keep five alive.

Potomac River Bassing in SEPTEMBER

It’s hot, as water hits the mid to upper 80s, get out early and leave before the heat and storms roll in.

Take a top down approach and continue as long as weather and fish cooperate. Hollow frogs or soft plastic buzz toads will work close to cover, grass or wood.

When the topwater bite fades, try shallow crankbaits and bladed jigs. Slow retrieves with swim jigs will work too. Catch grass and snap and stop. Stay in the shade as long as possible.

After the sun is out and stays, time to go to soft plastics. Texas rigged Mizmo tubes on 3/0 Mustad Ultra Point Tube hooks, shaky head with long shank Mustad jig hooks,  Neko rigs with Mustad 2/0 red wacky rig hooks and wacky rigged weightless stickworms work. Skip baits under docks or into grass clumps.

Line is key too. For frogs and toads, use 60 pound Gamma torque braid. For the crankbaits and bladed jigs, use 12-14 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line. The soft plastics presentations can be used on spinning gear like Quantum Smoke reels spooled with 15 pound test Gamma Torque braid with 10-12 pound test Edge leader. Or on casting gear, spool Quantum Smoke casting reels with 14 pound test Edge that can also handle most cover situations.

Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.

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