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Handling live fish with care ensures safe release to swim again

Black bass are often released quickly after being caught by anglers, sometimes only out of the water long enough for a moment of admiration and a photograph

 Releasing black bass back into the water to continue growing and reproducing can be a smart choice, but there are a few steps that can help ensure black bass and other sport fish are released unscathed by the few minutes it spends in an angler’s possession. With a little effort, anglers who choose to release fish can know that their catch was not released in vain, whether they are tournament anglers who collect large catches of fish, or recreational anglers who enjoy sharing nature with their families.

One of the most important steps to ensuring the survival of caught and released fish is the way the fish is lifted from the water and held.

Gene Gilliland, central region fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, advises anglers to carefully avoid holding larger bass by the lower jaw in a vertical position — a hold often seen in photographs — as this can dislocate or even break the fish’s jaw, preventing it from eating and likely resulting in the death of the fish. Gilliland also advises anglers to wet their hands before handling a fish with bare hands.

Additionally, the following tips are suggested for handling larger bass that will be released:

* Using your dominant hand, grip the fish with your thumb inside the mouth and your fingers locked on the outside of the mouth.

* Support the back end of the fish with your opposite hand placed beneath the fish just forward of the tail.

* Lift the fish out of the water in a horizontal position using both hands for support.

* Handle the fish only when putting it into a livewell or holding tank. Avoid keeping the fish out of water or habitually removing it from the water for photographs. A good rule of thumb is to avoid keeping a fish out of water longer than you can hold your own breath.

 When care is taken to preserve the life of a fish planned for release, anglers can be certain their good intentions will be followed by continued productivity of their favorite fishing holes and angling hot spots.

 Keeping one’s catch of fresh fish is also popular among Oklahoma anglers and can result in a delicious meal with family and friends in addition to reliving the memory of the catch. Fish battered in cornmeal and preferred seasoning are considered delicious when pan-fried. Other preparation methods include broiling until flaky, or cooked by any method of choice and served with cole slaw and hot sauce in a tortilla for a delicious “fish taco.”

 When keeping fish for the freezer, care should be taken to avoid “freezer burn” which occurs when oxygen is allowed to contact the meat directly in freezing conditions. It can be avoided by submerging fish in water before freezing or by using a vacuum sealer — available at sporting goods stores and other locations — to remove air from the container that stores the fish for freezing

 For more information about fishing in Oklahoma, log on to


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