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Some Waters Better for Fish to Breathe Than Others

I wrote the following a few years back for Junior Bassmaster. It explains how fish breathe and why proper care in a livewell is so important. With that in mind, please check out the V-T2 from New Pro Products. It’s an amazing innovation for maintaining a healthy livewell environment. It’s also easy to install and inexpensive.

 If sharks had feet, they would wear out a lot of shoes.

Many species of sharks, along with tunas, must constantly move in order to breathe. That can make it tough to get a good night’s sleep.

Bass and most other fish are lucky. Like us, they can breathe while they are not moving. And like us, they breathe to put oxygen into their bodies so that they can live.

But bass, sharks, and all other fish are very different from us in how they get that oxygen. We breathe in air so that our lungs can obtain oxygen. By contrast, fish push water through their mouths and across their gills, which take in the oxygen that they need. Most fish just open and close their mouths to push the water, while tunas and some sharks must move to do so.

Having gills, makes a bass a real “fish out of water” when you pull it onto shore or into your boat. Unless you treat it with care and put it quickly into a livewell or back into a lake or river, it will die because it can not get the oxygen it needs from air.

Some species, such as catfish, can live longer out of water than others. But always it is a good idea to return a fish to water as soon as possible.

In that watery world, a bass breathes by opening its mouth and drawing in water. As it does that, it closes its gill covers tight over its gill openings.  Then it closes it mouth and drives the water over its gills and out with special throat muscles.

Gills are those bright red feathery organs that you see beneath the gill covers, or operculum, on the side of a fish’s head. As water is passed through, oxygen is absorbed through the gills and into the fish’s blood. From there, arteries take it throughout the body. As the oxygen is used up by the stomach, brain, liver, and other vital organs, the blood flows to the heart, where it is pumped back to the gills.

Some water is better for breathing than other water. That’s why you should keep your livewell --- and your aquarium at home--- aerated. That means using turbulence from a pump to put oxygen into the water.

You must do this because fish, like us, produce carbon dioxide as waste as they breathe. In a closed container without aeration, a fish soon would use up all of the oxygen and die of suffocation, just as it does when left out in the air for too long. Turbulence replaces the carbon dioxide with live-giving oxygen.

Pumping oxygen in becomes even more important as the water heats up. That’s because warmer water can’t hold as much oxygen as can cooler. Also, a bass needs more oxygen in hot weather because it is cold-blooded and higher temperatures make it more active.

Bass sometimes die in small, shallow ponds during summer, because the water is so warm that it can’t hold enough oxygen for the fish to survive.

In the north, they also might die of suffocation in the winter, when ponds and lakes freeze over. Ice keeps the water from absorbing oxygen from the air. Also, snow cover on the ice can be a killer, as it prevents sun from reaching underwater plants. Without sunlight, plants don’t “breathe” in the water’s carbon dioxide and breathe out the oxygen that fish require.

But such “kills” don’t mean that bass are delicate creatures compared to other fish. Under the same circumstances, just about any other freshwater species would die as well.

Actually, bass are among the most hardy and adaptable, which is why we can fish for them in 49 of the 50 states, from the icy waters of Montana to the sun-warmed waters of Florida.

Wherever you catch them, though, don’t forget that a bass needs water in the same way that you need air. As quickly as you can, let that fish breathe again. 


Something Is Fishy About Bass Behavior

Illustration from

Bass live in a world very different from ours. We have skin. They have scales. We have feet. They have fins. We sleep about 8 hours a day. They never sleep.

What!? Never sleep!

That’s right. Many scientists believe that bass and most other fish don’t sleep. Perhaps that is why they are so cranky early in the morning when you throw a topwater bait over their heads.

“Bass don’t have eyelids and so they can’t close their eyes,” says David Campbell, a fisheries biologist and coordinator of the Texas ShareLunker program.

So, instead of fish-napping, they simply “rest” in an upright position around a rock or log or grassbed. Many anglers believe that bass and other fish are more likely to relax during the day when the moon is full and feed at night.

A few species, such as the clown loach, actually lie on their backs or sides when they want to rest.

If you were a bass, you probably wouldn’t want to sleep either. Your life would be too short to waste in bed. The oldest bass caught was believed to be between 22 and 24 years old. But the average bass lives only about 10 years, which makes one bass year equal to about eight human years.

During those 10 years, they eat hundreds of minnows, crawfish, and other critters. They use tiny teeth to capture and hold this food. Not once, though, do they ever chew it. Instead, they swallow it whole.

Because of such habits, your mother probably would not approve of you inviting them to dinner.

And what do bass drink with their one-bite meals? Why, water of course, even though that also is what they breathe. Just like us, fish need water in their bodies. They also absorb it through their skins.

Even saltwater fish drink water, but, with the help of their gills, get rid of the salt. That’s why a fish from the ocean doesn’t taste salty when you eat it.

Since bass breathe water, as well as drink it, they can’t drown. Right?


Fish can drown, but not in the same way that people do. In water, they might drown--- or suffocate--- if a stringer or some other object prevents their gills from working. Pollution and dirt also can interfere. A few years ago, thousands of fish drowned because of beer spilled into a Colorado stream.

Out of water, a fish’s gills can not control its oxygen intake, and so it “drowns” in air. That’s why it’s so important to return a bass to the water as quickly and gently as possible.

A bass’ table manners might shock your mother, but it’s a sport fish worthy of being caught more than just once.  

(This article was published originally in CastingKids, a magazine for young anglers from B.A.S.S. Publications.)


Book Shares 'Secrets' of Florida's Master Anglers

If you want to become a better angler, you can hire a charter captain or guide for several hundred dollars a day, watch what he does, ask lots of questions, and take lots of notes.

Or you can spend a few bucks for Ron Presley’s book, Secrets from Florida’s Master Anglers, which contains the combined wisdom of 20 such experts.

Just about anything and everything you want to know about Florida inshore fishing is revealed in this 256-page book from the same angler/author who wrote Fishing Secrets from Florida’s East Coast.

But don’t think that you will benefit from this book only if you plan to fish Florida waters. Much of the information provided by these experts applies to inshore saltwater angling in general. For example, the first chapter reveals “what every angler should know,” while the next two deal with rods, reels, lines, and terminal tackle.

One of the chapters that I enjoyed most is “Imitation of Life: Fishing with Artificial Bait.”  That’s because I agree with Capt. Ray Markham who said, “I’d rather fool the fish than feed the fish.”

Of course if you’d rather use natural bait, Presley includes a chapter on that as well. And, sometimes, that is the only way to get fish to bite.

For the average angler, who already knows quite a bit about fishing, one of the most beneficial chapters is “Shorten the Learning Curve--- How to Hire a Guide.” That’s because many anglers are reluctant to spend the money, thinking that they will do just fine by themselves. But when you’re fishing new water--- even if you’ve read this book--- hiring a guide is the way to go. And this chapter reveals why.

The last of the 12 chapters, meanwhile, provides the contact information for each charter captain/guide, as well as one final secret from each. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

If you buy the book from Amazon, you can get free shipping if you spend more than $25. So how about also buying my new book, Why We Fish?


Asian Carp Just One Big Leap From Lake Michigan

After being introduced into the Mississippi River, Asian carp will be kept out of the Great Lakes in the same way that snakeheads were kept out of the Delaware River system after they were introduced into the Potomac, and in the same way that zebra mussels were kept out of the rest of the country after they were introduced into the Great Lakes.

In other words, Asian carp won’t be kept out of the Great Lakes, and a billion-dollar sport fishery could be devastated as a result of that invasion.

Here’s the latest chapter in this saga that has only one ending but a multitude of plot twists on the way to the climax:

A 53-inch, 82-pound carp (probably a bighead) has been found in an Illinois lake less than 1,000 feet from the Calumet River, which flows into Lake Michigan.

Read the rest of the story here.

Don’t expect Burmese pythons to stay in the Everglades either. Oh, and, by the way, there’s another big snake on the block, courtesy of an unregulated and irresponsible pet industry.


In Defense of Fishing


Photo by Robert Montgomery

At the bank the other day, the teller told me that I had shortchanged myself a thousand dollars on my deposit slip.

I know why it happened. Each of the checks that I was depositing included a fraction of a dollar. I was so concerned about getting the pennies correct that I neglected to devote sufficient attention to the dollars.

In other words, I focused too much on minor details and completely missed the big picture.

That’s an easy thing to do. Most of us have done it at one time or another, and, fortunately, consequences usually aren’t catastrophic. We have spouses, friends, and friendly tellers to set us straight.

But too many of us are missing the big picture right now regarding the future of recreational fishing, and consequences could be catastrophic.

As the administration leads the country in a direction that the majority of Americans oppose, those who dislike recreational fishing or, at best, are indifferent to it, are using their White House alliances to push for massive federal control of public waters. And here’s the dangerous part:

As conservationists, anglers believe in sustainable use of fisheries, while protecting habitat, opposing pollution, and preserving the resource for future generations to enjoy.         

By contrast those pushing an anti-fishing agenda are preservationists who believe in “look but don’t touch.” They assert that humans exist apart from nature, rather than as a part of it. They think that we act immorally when we manage or alter it in any way.

Consequently, the big picture is that a concerted effort is underway to deny us access to a public resource, and, in so doing, to deny and destroy a significant portion of our history, culture, and economy --- not to mention our right to enjoy a day on the water with friends and family.

Granted, the movement is only now gaining momentum. Chances are, if you live inland, you might not see any closures in your life time. But the snowball has begun to roll downhill.

Arguably, it began when environmentalists convinced President George W. Bush to designate two remote areas in the Pacific as marine reserves. It has strengthened with the recently created National Ocean Council, which has been given authority to zone uses of our oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes, as well as the option to move inland to rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

Also, it’s taking shape via the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation Act and  a “catch shares” management strategy in which recreational participation would be capped.

And as preservationists seek to “protect” oceans from anglers, lake associations want to do the same on inland waters. Knowing a good excuse when they see one, they insist that closures of public access areas are needed to prevent spread of invasive species.

Inland access might seem unrelated to the ocean management. But they are two fronts of the same battle.

You need only look to California to see what is coming our way. Fisheries are falling one after the other, like dominoes, as emotion trumps science-based fisheries management.

Mostly the closures are coming under the auspices of the state Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).        But they’re also occurring through local regulations. Four out of five members of the Laguna Beach City Council supported a five-year moratorium on recreational fishing along its 7 miles of coast.

“There’s no such thing as a five-year moratorium,” said dissenter Kelly Boyd. “You turn something over to the state and you’ll never get it back.”

Dave Connell, an angry angler, added, “We’re fighting a fad, an environmental extremist wacko fad about closing the ocean. I do not know what their agenda is, but it is not to save the fish. It is not to keep the ocean clean.”

For our side, the fishing industry is spearheading a Keep America Fishing campaign. In particular, member Shimano deserves recognition. Along with donating $100,000 a year and considerable staff time annually to the cause, it has been one of the most outspoken critics of the way in which the MLPA has been implemented.

As a consequence, it has been the target of the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups, who have deep pockets with which to voice their zealotry. Filled with invective and inaccuracy, the Shame on Shimano website is but one example.

"The 'Shame on Shimano' campaign by NRDC is an outrageous misrepresentation of the facts about a company who has led the outdoor industry in supporting scientific research, habitat improvement, youth programs and fishery conservation efforts across North America for twenty years," said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation (CSF).

Starting to see the big picture yet?