Most bass anglers believe that they practice effective catch and release, but many are mistaken.
That realization is what motivates Carl Wengenroth to travel the vast expanses of Texas, teaching fish care to bass clubs. It is what motivates him to educate whoever will listen at The Angler's Lodge, a resort that he owns on Lake Amistad. And it is why he will give presentations during 2013 at National Marine Manufacturers Association boat shows.
“Guys tell me that their boats never kill a fish,” said Wengenroth, conservation director for the Anglers Bass Club of Del Rio. “But when I ask them if they’ve ever been back to the weigh-in site two or three days later, they say, ‘No.’
“They just don’t understand delayed mortality. But if we’re going to preach catch and release, we need to do it right.”
Wengenroth first realized that “we have a problem” when he saw the consequences of improper handling of bass during tournaments at Amistad and other lakes. When released after weigh-in, the fish swam away, but their carcasses littered the surface days later.
Many of the fatalities were the result of barotrauma (inflated bladder) and the fish could have been saved if they had been fizzed, Wengenroth learned, as he worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife and state Conservation Director Tim Cook to improve survival rates.
“Tim’s ethic has inspired me,” the lodge owner said. “The fire underneath his butt has put one under mine.”
Consequently, Wengenroth now conducts fish care classes from Del Rio to Conroe and down to Zapata, asking only that clubs pay for his hotel room and pass the hat for gas money.
During the 1 ½ hour-class, he shows anglers how to improve water quality in their livewells and in tournament holding tanks, as well as explains the why and how to vent bass through their sides.
With an oxygenation system for the boat’s livewell, an angler can turn off the aerator and will need to change the water only two or three times a day, Wengenroth explained. “Those who don’t want to install one “should put the aerator on and leave it on,” he said.
Keeping livewell water 5 to 8 degrees cooler than surface water is important too and that can be done by ice, with chemicals added to knock out the chlorine. A cheap floating thermometer allows for monitoring of temperature.
But no matter how good the water quality, if fish are suffering from barotrauma they are likely to die. “I teach them when you put a fish in the livewell, check it in 15 minutes and then again in 30 minutes,” the club conservation director said. “If it’s still down, then you are good to go.”
Wengenroth added that many are surprised to learn what contributes to barotrauma. “High temperatures in a foot of water can cause it as well as deep water,” he said.
And needle phobia is a common theme among anglers in his classes. To deal with that, he uses small filleted fish to teach bass anatomy and show where the needle goes when it is inserted under a side scale.
“This way, the can see that the needle will go where it is supposed to go (into the bladder), and they lose their fear of killing the fish,” said the lodge owner.
Following his classes, he added, anglers often tell him “I had no idea” and express their gratitude for his instruction.
“I am proud to say I believe in my heart I have made a difference,” Wengenroth said.
Clubs that would like to learn more about fish care from Wengenroth can contact him at AnglersLodge1@yahoo.com or (830) 719-9907.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)