Tossing bass back into lakes - a threat to fishing's future?

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Bassmaster Marshal

The other day I was watching a TV show about how lakes are stocked with fish. Some by hand, some by truck and some by airplane. That’s correct, airplane! They fill the airplane full of fish, fly over the lake like a crop duster, pull the plug and boom. The lake literally gets carpet bombed by hundreds of fish at one time. 

And get this, some of these free falling fish are trout! As in delicate little rainbow and brook and trout. Amazingly, after being dropped from an airplane, these delicate little flowers of the fish world just swim away into their new home, no worse for the wear.

If you don’t believe me, Google the words “fish stocking with an airplane” and see what you get. There is some great video of this accepted fish stocking practice that helps ensure that they can live to be caught another day. 

Amazing, huh?

So, follow my logic here, if trout can be dropped out of a moving plane into a lake with no harm, then certainly a bass could be dropped back into a lake by an angler standing still on the deck of a bass boat with no cause for alarm, right?

Apparently not.

Every week now it seems some bass pro is getting raked over the coals on chat boards and social media for handling a bass “improperly,” or “carelessly releasing a bass” by “dropping” or “pitching” it back into the water. Believe me, we as pros constantly hear about this “fish care epidemic” that’s “threatening the future of our sport.”

I’m not sure why all of a sudden bass pros have become the harbingers of doom when it comes to fish care.

Maybe the advent of Bassmaster LIVE has shown the world that bass pros often unhook non-keeper or non-culling bass and drop them or toss them back in the lake to swim again. This is nothing new – it’s been going on for years – and now that it’s not being edited out, people are “shocked” and “stunned” at these horrible, crass bass pros who subject these delicate little bass to a sudden drop of 4 or 5 feet back into the lake. 

Maybe it’s because other tournament organizations now levy penalties against pros who don’t release bass below the gunnel line of the boat – which is somehow far more acceptable than tossing a fish back from waste level.

C’mon guys, we are not fish killers here and fish are a little tougher than some of you give them credit for.

First of all, B.A.S.S., the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, has done more to assure a good quality of life for bass than any other fishing organization on earth. Since it’s inception nearly 50 years ago, B.A.S.S. has been obsessed with fish care. They developed the whole premise of catch and release and worked with bass boat manufacturers to install livewells to keep fish alive so they didn’t end up being the victory dinner after a tournament.

I’m pretty sure that if B.A.S.S. thought that “pitching” a bass back into a lake harmed it in any way, shape or form, they would have outlawed such release procedures years ago – long before Bassmaster LIVE.

Second of all, as a licensed angler, I have the right to take my five-bass limit (in most states) and fillet them if I wanted to. Would I do that? Of course not. Those fish – those live fish – are my livelihood. Why would I or any other angler do anything to harm them? There is a reason B.A.S.S. imposes penalties for dead bass: We all want these bass to be healthy and alive to catch again, whether we carry them to weigh-in in a livewell or “pitch” them back in the lake to fight again another day.

I’m pretty sure if trout can survive free-diving from a moving airplane, dropping a bass back into the water from 4 or 5 feet above the water does not hurt it. Personally, I have dropped, pitched and tossed back thousands of bass in my career and not once did one flounce or float back to the surface because it was “stunned.” Many times, I’ve caught bedding bass, dropped them back in the water only to watch them go right back to their beds, no worse for the wear.

When bass fight, especially smallmouth, they jump out of the water and land…back in the water! It’s part of the thrill of the fight. What’s next? People who will say, “Well, I just can’t believe he let that bass jump like that and land back in the water with such a big splash…OMG!”

Quite simply, where does all this “fish abuse” that we as pro anglers supposedly dole out end?

Please, there are far more serious threats to bass fishing than a pro “pitching” a non-keeper back into a lake. Things like water quality, habitat loss and angler access are the issues that need attention, not the splitting of hairs of what constitutes “correct and proper” ways to release a fish.