The bright-eyed and exited young boy watched as his dad battled a small bass then lifted it into the boat. Since the fish certainly wasn’t a “lunker”, the father decided to teach his young son about “catch and release”. As soon as the bass quit flopping around at the end of the line, the older angler grasped the fish around its mid-section, carefully removed the hooks, and pitched the bass back into the water.
The youngster seemed disappointed and somewhat puzzled by this action, so the father explained, “Son, that bass was pretty small, and it’s a lot better to release him now so that he can grow up. We might even catch him again when he’s a lot bigger.”
Having appeared to satisfy the boy, the father was sure that he had done the proper thing by teaching his son about “catch-and-release”, but was he correct? The answer is definitely ……….NO!
What the father didn’t know about fish probably contributed to the eventual death of the one he caught. Considering the rough handling the small fish received before being released, it would have been more humane to have kept the bass to eat.
Though many anglers seem to view the fish’s scales as some sort of armor coating, what they don’t realize is that the actual protective barrier is an almost invisible screen of slime on the exterior of the scales. This slime shield is the equivalent of the skin on human bodies. Without this mucus coating, the fish will die.
Since the father in the opening scenario had grasped the small bass around the midsection, he had certainly removed or damaged much of the fish’s slime coat. So, rather than doing a good deed, he had actually sentenced the bass to a slow death by infection, which happens consistently during most bass tournaments.
The proper way to handle a bass or other fish with fine teeth is by firmly grasping the lower jaw. This can be greatly enhanced by placing the thumb slightly into the mouth, pointing the index finger of the same hand upwards under the jaw and forcing the fish’s jaw downward. When done properly, this practically paralyzes the fish and allows easy handling or hook removal.
Handling a fish in this manner eliminates trying to hold a slimy, squirming fish by the body. It also takes away the possibility of damaging the mucus or squeezing the fish enough to hurt it internally.
Some dangers, however, are always present when holding a bass by the lower lip, especially if it has a crankbait with several treble hooks hanging from the lure. Extreme care must be exercised when attempting to grasp a hooked fish. First wait until the fish has ceased to fight, then insert the thumb into its mouth on the opposite side from the lure.
Other practices that are detrimental to fish would have to include nylon or wire nets. These tend to scrape off the fish’s protective coating as well. Soft rubber nets may not be as strong or last as long, but they are are much better for the fish.
Though fish fight valiantly and appear to be strong and hardy creatures, a slight action like rubbing one’s hand down its side might spell death. “Catch-and-release” is great, but sentencing a fish to a slow death by mishandling is inhumane!