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Airborne Aerial Predator

I caught this arowana while fishing for peacock bass on the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon. It can breath air, as well as water, and often leaps out of the water to capture prey, including birds on low-hanging branches

It's but one of more than 2,500 species of fish (some say the number is closer to 5,000) in the massive Amazon River basin, which covers 2.5 million square miles and 30 percent of South America.

Seeing and learning about such miracles of nature are but two of the many reasons why I fish.

Whey We Fish: Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.


Better Bass Fishing Presentation Tip for Docks

Secret 201: Round-edge baits and baits without legs and tails are much easier to skip under docks. Those with sharp edges and/or appendages dig into or stick onto the surface of the water, slowing them down and limiting their effectiveness.

From Better Bass Fishing: Secrets From the Headwaters by a Bassmaster Senior Writer


Some Waters Better for Fish to Breathe in Than Others

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.

(I wrote this article 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.)


Summer Fishing and Campfires

Summer is prime time for campfires. Here's a memory of my first, when I was 12 and on my first overnight fishing, which included my first time in a boat and my first time drinking coffee:

Until then, I had been allowed to “camp out” only in our back yard and only when the temperature was predicted to stay above 70 degrees. But when I was twelve, my father’s friend took me to fish for catfish below Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks.

We didn’t do much catching.  In the cool, early morning hours below the dam, I managed to boat a small white catfish and Joe didn’t catch anything. The coffee seemed bitter to taste buds accustomed to the sweet taste of Coca Cola, but I welcomed its heat on my insides as I shivered in the mist and watched for a bite.

We arrived the night before and Joe immediately built a fire to ward off the chill of air cooled by water cascading through the hydropower dam. I don’t recall anything about how he did it or whether I helped. But I do remember how warm and cozy the fire made me feel as I lay in my sleeping bag and drifted off to sleep, listening to the nearby turbulence.

And I remember what I saw when I awakened sometime in the pre-dawn: A mother skunk and two little ones. With tails held high, they strolled brazenly between me and the dying embers. Like window shoppers, they inspected rocks, fishing tackle, and even my shoes . . .

*     *     *     *

What happened? Find out by reading "Campfire Cooking" in Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up with Nature.


Hot-water Stress a Killer for Big Fish, Whether Sharks or Bass

The great hammerhead shark is a magnificent animal. It's also one of 24 shark species illegal to harvest in Florida waters, up to 9 miles off the coast.

Sadly,  four of them washed up on Sarasota beaches in late June and July, according to the Bradenton Herald.

What happened to them? Most likely, they were caught and released, but didn't survive the trauma of the fight and handling.

"This particular species of hammerhead is just so fragile that they go into physiological stress," said Robert Hueter, director of shark research at Mote Marine Laboratory.

One of those stressors during this time of year is the temperature.

Whether shark, catfish, or bass, a fish's metabolism  speeds up in warm water because it is cold-blooded. That means it burns more energy and, as a consequence, must consume  more food to fuel sustain itself. It also means that its oxygen needs are intensified. But . . .

"The hotter the water is, the less oxygen it can hold," Hueter said.

Now factor in the energy and oxygen expended in a struggle to escape once hooked,  and fish die, especially larger fish, which simply cannot recover no matter how carefully they are handled once they are brought to the shore or boat. In essence, they die of exhaustion, unable to gain the oxygen they need to recover.

That's why delayed mortality increases for bass tournaments during summer. And that's why those great hammerheads did not survive.

This dead great hammerhead was hauled back out to sea after recently washing up on a Sarasota beach.Hueter added that hammerheads  likely are especially vulnerable because their mouths are so small in comparison to their bodies.

 “As soon as it’s obvious that it is a hammerhead, the better thing to do would be just to cut the line or cut the leader, get as close as you can to the animal without spending a lot of time pulling it in,” he said. “Cut it and let it go.”

Dragging a shark, or any other large fish, such as a Goliath grouper, onto shore always is stressful for the animal, but especially so during summer. Meanwhile, inshore and beach fishing for sharks is more popular than ever.

"We're seeing more (sharks) than we've seen before washing up on beaches," Hueter said.

The fish is much more likely to survive if kept in shallow water for dehooking and photos.

In addition to hammerheads, bull and black tip sharks also are especially vulnerable to stress. At the other extreme, nurse and lemon sharks are among the hardiest.

Here are some handling tips to help ensure survival. They apply specifically to sharks, but are good tips for handling big fish of many species when caught on bait.

  • Use heavy tackle and non-stainless circle hooks
  • Use a dehooker
  • Cut the leader or line quickly, leaving as little as possible attached to the hook
  • Do not bring sharks out of water
  • Leave shark in enough water so that it can breathe through its mouth and gills
  • Shoot photos in process of releasing