Fish care done the right way

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James Overstreet

I saw something at the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet that was inspiring.

The fishing was pretty darn good; Micah Frazier’s come-from-behind victory served as another exciting finish in a great Elite season.

But activities that went on behind the scenes were equally noteworthy.

All of the Elite anglers attended a fish care class prior to the event. Of course those guys know how to handle bass properly under most conditions, but they were about to engage a fishery where precious smallmouth would be caught deep and needed extra care.

B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland and New York B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation Director Barb Elliott brought everyone up to speed on the absolute best way to “fizz” bass caught from depths that struggle to stay upright in the livewell.

For those that don’t know, when bass are brought to the surface from deep water, their air bladders don’t adjust. The bladders inflate to the point the fish struggle to stay balanced and will lie on their sides or even turn upside down when placed in the livewell. It not only messes up their buoyancy, but decreases circulation.

The best way to alleviate that is to properly insert a needle into the side of the bass to release air from the bladder. That’s called “fizzing.”

The timing for the class was perfect. Some of the Elite anglers were making their first visit to northern smallmouth waters, but it was also good for the veterans as well.   

After talking to some of them, it was obvious they were more comfortable and felt good about handling smallmouth properly after attending the class.

It was good for me, too. I met with Barb Elliott before a weigh-in and asked her to give me the same class. I have fizzed a lot of fish in my lifetime, but I wanted to make sure I was doing it the right way.

So many of us think we know what how to care for fish properly, but there is no better way to improve the skills than from the professionals.

I wasn’t doing it wrong, but Barb showed me more efficient ways to do it. After taking her class, I am certain that the fish I fizz will live to fight again.

Another thing I learned is you should fizz a fish immediately and not wait until you get to the weigh-in or the fish have wallowed in your livewell for a few hours.

The pre-tournament classes paid off big results. Elliott and Gilliland were ecstatic with the condition of the fish brought to the weigh-in, no doubt the result of the education they delivered during the classes.

Not only did the class benefit the pros, but it gave them a solid foundation to educate other anglers in future seminars and fishing encounters.

B.A.S.S. has always preached good conservation, but the best mouthpieces are the anglers.

If you’d like to learn more, visit Bassmaster.com/conservation. There you'll find a guide for Keeping Bass Alive as well as videos on fizzing largemouth and fizzing smallmouth bass.

It’s worth your time, and you owe it to the sport!