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Reducing Stress on Fish

Summer is coming, are you ready? I’m not sure I am, there are so many things that are made so much harder by the heat. As a tournament fisherman my number one goal is catching quality fish, but the second most important goal is keeping them alive.  Bass fishing has taken that to the next level by introducing on the boat weighing, thus minimizing the stress placed on the fish. However, the crappie world just isn’t there yet.  I know that sounds easy but I was privileged enough to get a little scoop on how and why that works so well and the money spent to make that TV show is crazy. Let’s just leave it at “there are some extremely smart people handling the production”.  

So, what can I do as an angler to reduce stress on my fish? It’s really simple in theory and a bit harder in application. 

1.       Avoid catching them from “deep water” the hard part of this is what is deep water? I tend to try to locate fish in areas where they aren’t any deeper than 15’. If you can do this than move to step 2.  15-20’ is my marginal range, you can still fish for them but care afterwards is very important. watch for them laying on their side in the live well, use belly weights or “fiz” them if you see this. Belly weights keep fish vertical and allows the fish to breathe using both gills instead of having one out of the water if they are on their side. I truly try to avoid catching fish beyond 20’ unless my goal is dinner.

2.       Live well conditioning.  Ice, Ice, Ice.  You have to control the water temperature in your livewell. Keeping it in the 65-70 degree temperature is optimal, but 10-15 degrees lower than the water temp they came from will suffice. I start the day with 2 bags of ice in the livewell, and fill it 1st thing in the morning from the lake. Then I condition it with whatever brand of water conditioner you feel is right.(Google Live well conditioner) I feel it is better to mix it a little rich than to not have enough in it. This next part is very important, do not add any new lake water the rest of the day.  I plug my livewell to prevent any of my conditioned water from escaping. A re-circulator is a must, if your boat doesn’t have one than figure out how to get one in it.  I have taken ones designed for 5-gallon buckets and zip tied it in and wired it to a timer. It doesn’t have to be pretty but you must circulate/oxygenate your water. Lastly, don’t forget to maintain your water temperature throughout the day, more than likely you will be adding ice once or twice throughout the day. 

3.       Keep only the 7 or 8, depending on your tournament rules, you are going to weigh in.  The fewer fish in the livewell means more oxygen available.  

There are many other things that can be done such as oxygenators, and direct injection of O2 into the livewell. As of yet I haven’t tried these, but they may be in my future.  It is so important to keep these fish alive to release in good condition later.  Hope this helps. 

Robert Carlile
Oklahoma Crappie Anglers Club

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