Whether on a weigh-in stand or in front of a camera, holding a fish up for display has become an integral part of angling. But what’s the best way to handle that bass during the short, but critical time it is out of the water, especially if it weighs 5 pounds or more?
Surprisingly, despite the immense popularity of bass fishing, no research has been conducted to determine that --- until now. Scientists at the Florida Bass Conservation Center are investigating the question during a short, but precedent-setting project co-sponsored by the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program at the University of Florida (UF), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF).
During the coming months, they will test three different methods of holding bass, all of which weigh between 4 and 9 pounds. One is by the lower jaw with one hand, while the other is placed near the pelvic fin to fully support the fish’s weight. Another is by a Boga Grip, with the fish hanging vertically. And the third is horizontally by the lower jaw.
The main objective is to determine whether these techniques influence jaw function, and to assess if one is more harmful than another. Many fisheries managers suspect that improper handling can influence feeding effectiveness and jaw mechanics, as well as fish survival.
Evidence to support that is provided by Texas’ ShareLunker Program. This year, three of the first five fish brought in had broken jaws. “The only explanation we have for the broken jaws is fish being held vertically by the lower jaw,” Texas Parks & Wildlife officials said.
“Anglers were expressing concern to FWC about how some big bass were being handled,” said UF’s Mike Allen, who is leading the research. “Studies have been done on other species, such as barramundi in Australia, but we were surprised to find out there is no science on this issue (for bass).
“Now we are hoping that people will get behind this and help support it,” he added. “Also, RocketHub allows us to educate anglers and raise awareness during the project.”
At this fund-raising site, anglers can donate to a scholarship through FCF for a graduate student to help with the laboratory work. Donations also will help with his travel expenses to and from the hatchery, as well as outreach materials to better communicate findings to the public.
A rare opportunity arose to do this work because the hatchery was rotating out about 100 of its brood stock, averaging about 5 pounds each. “That got us on a fast track because the hatchery needs to move those fish,” Allen said.
With cameras recording everything, researchers will test 30 bass at a time, 10 with each method, holding the fish for 60 seconds. The bass then will be placed in raceways for five days to allow them recover from the stress, before they are fed for two days. Finally, they will be moved to a pond to look at long-term survival. Each bass is identified by a bit of colored yarn tied to its dorsal fin. During feeding, scientists will analyze the number of effective strikes on prey, the jaw movement rate (time required to open and close the mouth in feeding), and the behavior of the fish around the feeding process (for example, the time it takes to consume the minnow).
“We want to see if there’s any harm to the jaw musculature, any damage to the feeding mechanism,” Allen said.
“What’s really going to take some time is looking at all the videos, watching how the fish hold their jaws, seeing if they ‘yawn’ more, looking at whether there’s any effect on the percentage of time that strikes are successful, and how they do long term.”