By Steve Chaconas
Photos of fish laid out on carpet make a lot of catch & release anglers cringe. While there isn’t a specific scientific study to correlate laying a fish on carpet to fish mortality, common sense with complimentary science makes the case.
Slime coat serves as an outer skin to protect fish skin and scales from bacteria, virus, disease, parasites and infections. Slime coat removal might not kill fish immediately but could contribute to delayed mortality. Texas Pro Lake Management fisheries biologist Steven Bardin says, “Once that damage occurs, bacteria transfer can happen from your hands, in the live well, or even once released.” Slime coat becomes damaged or is removed when coming into contact with abrasive surfaces, including carpet. Minimal handling and less air exposure is best when intending to release fish.
As more anglers practice catch and release, whether fun fishing or participating in tournaments, proper fish handling becomes paramount to fishery survival. In addition, fish exposed to poor handling are the bigger fish in the system. Not many photograph 6” bass on the carpet. Guides aren’t exempt from lapses in fish care, taking photos with anglers holding 4 or 5 fish to promote business or to commemorate a great day. Every time a fish is handled contributes to its possible delayed demise.
While many fish handling aspects, livewells, nets, non-piercing cull clips, and hooks have been studied, there’s nothing about fish on carpet. As such, many tournament and recreational anglers aren’t on board. However top tournament trails are delivering a message with a penalty. Boyd Duckett, President and MLFLW CEO, says Major League Fishing arrived at their no-carpet rule several years ago. MLF organizers noticed highly pressured lakes had higher delayed mortality rates and fish with sores on their bodies, not so much around their faces where wet hands came into contact with them. The connection was fish handling, and dried white slime coat left behind on carpets provided visible evidence. Science, statistics and common sense contributed to the first no-carpet tournament rule and penalty.
While the FLW division isn’t yet enforcing no-carpet rules, many MLF anglers carry over fish care habits when fishing those events. Duckett says as the sport grows, catch and release allows the resource to keep up with increased angling demand. B.A.S.S. set the conservation tone and MLF, looking to expand the sport, took it from there. “If we expand the sport, we need to protect the fisheries.” The MLF media platform brings masses to the sport. “We have additional responsibility. Understanding post weigh-in mortality, MLF is making an all-out push to enhance fish handling care.” The organization is analyzing weigh in style events to eventually convert to catch, weigh and release at every level. Duckett says viewers from around the world watch and learn about the best fish care.
Noting the vast MLF TV coverage, Bass Cat/Mercury pro Kelly Jordon says it’s all about optics. “Boat flipping isn’t good for fish or the sport…acceptance of the responsibility is good for the growth of the sport.” As for how pros are accepting no-carpet rules Jordon says, “It becomes part of your game and you get used to it. You can train for one way or the other it just sticks with you. It becomes a habit, a great habit so you don’t get a penalty.”
B.A.S.S. doesn’t have specific rules about keeping fish off carpet, but tournament directors understand slime loss from handling adds another layer of stress. Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. Conservation Director, says, “We know that stress is cumulative and can increase delayed mortality. So, we preach all the time to all anglers, Do your best to keep ‘em off the carpet.” He says without definitive studies, it is as much a social issue as biological. Gilliland says a slime coat study would justify fish care improvement, “…if we could find a willing researcher and of course, funding”.
The slime coat topic has become a lightning rod since MLF instituted their 2-minute penalty. But whether there’s science to back up the general consensus, the perception of the lapse in fish care puts the public in square opposition to bass fishing at all levels, especially when events are held on their home waters and tournament anglers abuse fish. Even though anglers have a legal right to take fish home to eat, others see living creatures slung into the boat, hitting the floor and quivering. Release your fish for another day. Keep them off the carpet.
Potomac River Bassing in March
Water is reaching 50 degrees and fish are slowly beginning to move into shallow water making them easier to catch.
On days with a bit of chop on clear water, tie suspending clown colored jerkbaits to 10 pound test Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon line. Make long casts and work slowly along cover, near docks or rip rap. Use craw or red pattern lipless crankbaits tied to the same line and slowly crawl along gravel points, maintaining bottom contact.
Carolina rigs with 24 inch leaders, ¾ ounce weights and a 2/0 Mustad Mega Bite hook with a bulky green pumpkin soft plastics will work.
Pitch Mizmo tubes with ¼ ounce Mud Puppy Custom Baits insert heads made with Mustad hooks to penetrate with a load and pull set. Skipping under docks and near cover will also produce along with Neko and Ned rigs. Faster Quantum Smoke spinning reels make it easier to take up slack for hooksets with 15 pound Gamma Torque braid with 8 pound Edge leader.
Use the same line system for drop shot and split shot rigs. Small worms can be threaded on 1/0 Mustad Mega Bite hooks with 3/16 ounce Water Gremlin BullShot weights. Keep baits horizontal with slow movements and pauses.
Punisher hair jigs are also a good choice with small craws or chunks. Use the same line. Allow jigs to sit so hair opens to stimulate bites.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.