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The Tackle Box

by Ralph B. Spoerl


You know, nearly every time I stick my hand in the Tackle Box, I either get poked by a sharp hook or stabbed by something else pointy.  I’m sure you’ve all been there. Today, trying to be more careful, I reached in again and this time found a safer object-- no sharp corners or points.  I found my jar of “Catch and Release” formula.  We all know about it (or we should), but do we use it?  Some thirty plus years ago, when I started fishing, it wasn’t even available.  However, when I got into Catch and Release Tournament Bass Fishing about 10 or 12 years ago, it seemed that everyone was using it.  In my opinion, it was a no-brainer.  The stuff only cost a couple of bucks and hey, that’s cheaper that most lures I own. After all, weren’t bass fisherman the original “catch and release” guys?  

The Catch and Release system has been in practice for a long time.  Yet now the fish biologists and other experts are talking about “Delayed Mortality”.  What exactly is “Delayed Mortality?”  A few years back our club was fishing a tournament on Lake Geneva. As we ended the day and began releasing our fish, an older gentlemen from the area had been watching our weigh in. As we finished and I walked to the shore to release our fish he came up to me and asked me what I was doing.  I proudly told him that our club just had a bass fishing tournament on the lake and I was releasing the fish as per our clubs conservation rules of release.  To my chagrin, he chuckled and informed me that in a day or two he’d be back here to pick up the dead fish that he was sure he’d find along the shore.  He said that this is a regular occurrence after all small tournaments.   

I walked away feeling really bad and a little confused.  Isn’t that what the catch and release formulas and practice is supposed to prevent?  Aren’t all bass tournament people using some type of catch and release formula, or at the very least using the methods of storing the fish in iced water to keep them alive?  Are we missing something? Hind site being what it is, I now realize that the older gentleman was speaking of the “Delayed Mortality” factor? 

Unfortunately, it seems clear that something is going wrong.  Apparently, some people are not using the fish saving Catch and Release formulas available to them for use in the live wells and, the fish are dying soon after they’re back in to the water.

So, what’s really going on here?  If the delayed mortality factor is a reality then we as bass people must face it and take responsibility for it.  Today’s tournament spotlight is now focusing on the issue of delayed morality and studies are starting to factor this into tournament statistics.  Certainly, this will put a less than positive face on our conservation attempts and those with agendas to curtail tournament activity will likely find a rational argument to support their case against us.  Assuming that we all as outdoorsmen and women care what happens to those bass and their environment after we catch them, record them, and then release them, I think we all agree that the goal is 100% release and total survival of the fish.  So what do we need to do to help ensure that survival and preserve our reputations as sportsmen and women and aggressive conservationists? 

These mortality studies are here and we as anglers need to become part of the solution to this problem and not permit ourselves to aggravate the situation or perpetuate it.  We must take the idea of Catch and Release very seriously and we must use the tools available to us in order to achieve that goal.  Perhaps we all need to revisit out club tournament rules to be sure that each and every one of us is participating appropriately by those rules.  Maybe the rules themselves need to include a more disciplined approach to Catch and Release.  And remember, the fish that survived did so, not just because we kept water in our live well,  and were then set free. They survived primarily because we went the extra mile and cared for them while they were stored in those live wells by using the tools we have available to care for them before they were released—a practice we all need to follow, to teach, and to preach.

So as I said in the beginning, being more careful when you put your hand in your own tackle box might bring out something other than an item that pokes and/or hurts.  The Tackle Box might also contain something that will help—you, the fish, and the environment.