by Gritter Griffin
Every pro in every sport knows that there are "good days" when everything goes right and there are "bad days" when all is misery and failure. We have all heard of, and most likely experienced, being "off your game".
What does this mean and why does it occur?
Way back yonder in the dark ages when I was in college I played and excelled at nearly every sport. I was also darn good in the outdoors and was an avid hunter and fisherman. I learned the ways of the critters and became one.
But it was golf that I truly loved and excelled at far beyond just being “really good at it”. It was golf that paid for my college education and it was golf that taught me all about being “on your game” and “off your game”. I have finally come to realize that this same principle applies to every endeavor.
It doesn’t matter if you are hunting, fishing, playing golf, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or water polo - every time you compete, every cast, every swing of the bat, every throw of the ball, every shot at the hoop, every swat with the stick, every swing of the club has an impact on how the “game” will go that day. Some days you are invincible. When you do things that shouldn’t work, they do. When you make a mistake, it doesn’t hurt you. Even when you make a bad decision it works out for the best.
And then there are those days when, no matter what you do, it turns out all wrong. The best decisions, made from the most logical viewpoint possible, not only fail but fail miserably. The best swing, the best shot, the best throw, the best cast all turn out to be errantly directed with negative and sometimes disastrous results. No matter what you do, it just isn’t going to work out.
Competitors that learn to recognize this “on or off your game” phenomenon not only save themselves a lot of unnecessary stress, but they also learn to roll with punches, make the best of it, and move on to the next day. And sometimes, wonderful things happen. It is from these very situations that the great comebacks, the charges, the incredible come-from-behind last minute victories that we all live for come from. It is the stuff of legends.
Competitors that learn to recognize their “game” are the cream of the crop, the true professionals, who always seem to be at the top of their game. It’s all about adapting to the “game” phenomenon. It is all about recognizing this unconscious pattern and using it to obtain the best results possible on that day. No ne really knows why or how this “game” thing happens but it does. Maybe it’s what you had for supper the night before. Maybe it’s the moon and the stars and gravity. Maybe it’s any number of things but it is very real and can be very destructive.
On a bad day, a pro that understands this “game” thing will not try to over-compensate. He will not get angry when his best efforts continually fall short. He will not press harder and make things worse. He will be patient and just very gently tweak the edges of his performance to get every possible benefit out of a day that is obviously going to be “off” from his usual performance. Then, hopefully, the next day of competition is one of those days when everything goes exactly as it should and his performance is once again stellar.
There’s no real solution other than recognition, patience, perseverance, and a stubborn belief in your own abilities. Bad days come, and bad days go. It is your belief in yourself that must be the constant.
By Danno Wise
For most inshore anglers, spring means sow specks. But, the warming weather of April also ushers in outstanding redfish action. There is one caveat to spring redfish action, however. That is, changing conditions due to spring winds, tides and constantly changing temperatures means that fishing for reds can change from day to day – or even several times within the same day – during spring.
The constantly changing conditions is somewhat of a good news/bad news scenario. On the one hand, virtually every angler is assured of being able to fish for reds in their favorite manner -- whether that be sight casting, soaking bait on the bottom or anything in between -- at some point during the spring. The downside is just the opposite of that -- at some point during the spring season, pretty much every inshore angler will be presented with conditions that rules out their favorite way of fishing for reds. Anglers can see this as a cup half full or a cup half empty. For the optimistic angler, they will embrace the opportunity to fish in a variety of ways over the next few weeks. The pessimistic fisherman, on the other hand, will bemoan the conditions which prevent them from employing their beloved techniques. But, by being adaptable, fishermen can find consistent success while fishing for redfish during spring.
One thing that will impact every type of fishing over the next few weeks is the warming temperatures of spring. Because the water temperature is generally "comfortable" for the fish, they are feeding more actively. This allows fishermen to use more "power" fishing techniques, which allows them to fish faster and cover water at an increased clip. When power fishing for reds, one lure comes to mind – the weedless spoon. Spoons can be used to cover water quickly and will draw fish from a great distance, especially with decent visibility and sunlight. When the water is too stained for using spoons, paddle-tail plastics, either fished straight-lined or under a popping cork, will produce good results.
Although spring is notorious for strong winds, there will be times when the winds lay down, the water clears and sight casting is a very real possibility in mid- to late-spring. Clear, calm conditions and plenty of active fish on the flats equates to excellent sight-casting. Whether wading, drifting or poling, if they are fishing over shallow flats inshore anglers can expect plenty of sight-casting opportunities for both speckled trout and redfish over the next month. Both conventional tackle anglers and fly fishermen can get in on the sight-casting action when the conditions are right during April and May.
As is always the case when sight-casting, using smaller, soft landing lures and flies is the best bet. But, since fish are quite a bit more active and will swim a greater distance to attack a bait, anglers don’t need to be near as precise with their casting. In fact, when fish are active, it is often better to cast beyond the sighted fish are reel back in front of them to prevent them from spooking. Spoons are outstanding for this type of duty, while anglers using the traditional sight-casting approach of placing a lure close to a feeding fish will do well with DOA Shrimp or 3 1/2 inch soft-plastics on 1/16 ounce jig heads.
When fish aren't regularly being sighted, anglers can cast into sand pockets or "potholes" on grass flats. By selectively sight-casting at these fish holding structures, anglers can often pull fish off the flat even when they haven’t been seen.
When the wind or tides kick up, as is inevitable during spring, or when huge amounts of water move in and out of the bay by spring tides, the water often turns dirty. However, even when the water on shallow flats turns dirty, anglers can still experience good fishing by adjusting their lure choices and techniques.
Most often, anglers fishing dirty water for the first time resort to live bait, believing artificials won't produce in such conditions. While live shrimp, croaker and mullet will catch plenty of specks in off-color water, so will plugs and plastics. The key is choosing the right colors - usually darks and brights work best - and the right action - a paddle tail plastic will give more vibration than a straight-tail bait. Also, since visibility is reduced, baits - natural or artificial - should be retrieved fairly slow to allow fish to hone in on them. With plastics and live baits, a cork can aid anglers with a slow retrieve and also induces fish attracting sound. With plugs, patience is the key - work the lure as slowly as possible and practical.
Full buffet, but fishermen still need to match the preferred menu item
Spring generally means a varied diet for redfish. Recent hatches of a variety of prey items means fish will be feeding on a wide variety of baitfish and crustaceans, such as shrimp, finger mullet, pinfish, shad, marine worms, sand eels, crabs and glass minnows. The key to finding success on many days is figuring out the preferred meal of the day. Although it may seem as if fish are enjoying a never-ending smorgasbord during late spring and gorging on anything that swims, the target prey is actually usually very specific at any given time. For instance, when glass minnows are freshly hatched and covering the bay surface, it is often hard to get fish to strike a shrimp or mullet imitating lure. They tend to key in on whatever is the dominate bait source at that moment. During late spring, that can vary widely and change often. Fishermen should make observations of active bait from day to day and even from area to area within the same bay.
Flood tides can spread fish thin
More often than not, tides determine when, where and how inshore anglers fish. But, there is no other season which sees tidal flow has as much impact as spring. As a rule, spring tides have higher highs and lower lows. With such water level extremes, anglers must remain flexible in order to find fish.
When a huge flood tide rolls into the bay, areas that had been too shallow - or, in some cases, high and dry - during low tide, will be in play. Fish will take advantage of this new real estate and spread out over the newly flooded bars and flats. Often times, these fresh patches of water also benefit anglers in that they are in areas that are somewhat protected by the wind, giving fishermen more options when the wind is really howling. Conversely, some of the mid-depth and deeper areas of the bay will become too deep - and at times too rough - to fish on high tide.
A big influx of water also impacts the back bays and marshes, often filling these areas to fishable levels. But, with all of this “new” water that arrives with an incoming spring tide comes complications, as fish simple have more areas to spread out over. So, it is essential for fishermen looking to locate fish during high water periods to key in on active bait and other signs to help pinpoint productive water.
Too much tidal flow can hinder fishing
Stronger current doesn't always mean better fishing. In fact, some areas close to major passes may become unfishable during periods of peak tide movement as the current may be rushing through too fast. Those areas are better fish as the tide first begins moving or as it slows right after peak movement. But, some of the back bay areas that rarely see a noticeable tidal flow will often benefit from a strong, sustained flow during spring. So, when the water is really flowing, anglers simply need to pick the right location to take advantage of the water movement.
When the tide turns and begins dropping, the water from the back lakes and marshes comes flooding back into the bay. The channels that drain these back water areas can be very productive when tides flush out, washing out hordes of prey items such as shrimp, finger mullet, crabs and marsh minnows. Redfish will often congregate in front of these drains taking advantage of an easy meal as these prey items wash out of the bay. Anglers can position themselves to cast into the drain and allow their lures and baits to wash out naturally with the tide. When the happens, the action can often be fast and furious.
Low tides lead to concentrations of fish
Just as spring “bull tides” can flood previously dry areas, super low spring tides can also drain bays as fast as they fill them. When the water level bottoms out, channels and holes on flats can serve as hangouts for concentrations of redfish. In fact, low tide fishing during spring can be reminiscent of fishing low tides during winter, after a north wind has blown all the water out of the bay. Often when a pod of reds is found in one of these areas, there is little reason to move. Instead, anglers can anchor, stake out or simply stand in place if wading and catch good numbers of reds from a single location.
In short, redfishing during spring can be extremely productive. But, as has been detailed above, there are a number of factors that can affect when, where and how fishermen should fish in order to be consistently productive during the latter stages of spring.
Visit Capt. Danno Wise at www.lonestarsalt.com
I confess that it was rather darkly humorous in a stupid sort of way several years ago when Bill Clinton asked the court to define what “is” is. But it wasn’t a unique or supremely arrogant blunder on his part. It was, actually, rather ingenious. The efforts to define “is” presented such a conundrum to the court, and the gaggle of high-powered high-dollar attorneys, that the actual discussion of guilt or innocence was lost in the massive legal struggles that followed during attempts to define “is”.
It’s kind of like trying to define “water” or “land” in Louisiana.
You may think you know the difference in land and water. You may even think that any normal human with walking around sense would know the difference too.
And, you would be wrong.
Because in Louisiana “water” is whatever a group of senseless politicians defines it to be. This also applies to the definition of “land”.
I find it increasingly difficult to understand why and how the “landowners” in Louisiana are being allowed to continue to operate under archaic Napoleonic “laws” thereby claiming “ownership” of navigable waterways all over Louisiana. They can do this because the kangaroo courts have ruled that “land” is defined as whatever was noted as land on a survey map from over a hundred years ago. As we all are acutely aware, that “land” is now covered by water which, in most places, is many feet in depth.
Worse, the various governmental agencies seem to be completely unconcerned about the sham this rather senseless “law” perpetrates on the very public that supports their coffers. In a time when freedom to access what should be public waterways is being reduced daily, these agencies have turned a blind eye to the plight that affects thousands of recreational anglers. Apparently, the “land” owners have lobbied their dollars to politicians that care more for their personal pocketbooks than for the needs of the constituents they are supposed to represent.
It is a travesty and a fool’s errand to promote the idea that navigable waterways are “land”. Worse, many of the landowners have coerced the local Sheriff’s departments to patrol these private “lands” at public expense and issue citations for “trespass” on the owner’s property. Many have placed hidden cameras to capture these egregious criminal anglers and some have even stooped so low as to fire a gun in the direction of the interlopers. Seems to me that the firing of guns at other humans is frowned upon and would constitute a crime by the “land” owner. Oh wait, this water is land – right?
I have a solution.
Let’s vote all the “land” back to the original owners – the tribes that were there long before the theft of their property when it really was solid land. I suspect they would be more than happy to allow fishing and boating on the property thus returned.
More later. I’m not done chewing this bone.
It was late Spring in 2015 and Benny Sanchez was looking at his fishing calendar for a tournament that he and his partner could enter. He noted with some dismay that there were no competitive events scheduled during a large part of the middle of the summer.
He decided to do something about that.
And, Tito’s was born.
Benny noted that there was a big gap between late May and early August with no scheduled events. He put the word out to his friends and fellow anglers on Facebook that he would hold an impromptu event out of Campo’s Marina in Shell Beach. It was to be a “fun” event and he didn’t really expect more than a handful of anglers to show up. The day of the event he was quite surprised to find that 26 boats had registered to compete! And, although he didn’t have an arrangement with them, and they didn’t really sponsor that first event, Benny named the event after his primary sponsor – Tito’s. He even had the Tito’s girls come out that day.
Interestingly, Benny says he also learned a valuable lesson that day – “You can’t compete in your own tournament!” He and his partner got stuck three times that day and by the time he got back to the dock there were anglers waiting for him to get the weigh in going.
Benny realized that there was a need for additional redfish competitions, but he wanted to produce a different kind of event. He wanted to create an event that was fun and family friendly. He wanted to build an event that the entire family could come out and enjoy. An event where the competition was important but having a really good time with camaraderie, food, family, and fun was the focal point.
The next year, 2016, he held an event at Sweetwater Marina in Delacroix and 43 boats registered to compete. Despite horrendously stormy weather and a start time delayed until noon, almost all the competitors stayed and played. He knew then that his instincts had been right and that he had found a niche. In November that year LASS was going away and Facebook lit up with “what will we do now” comments. Many anglers asked Benny to step in and do more events. Although he had not approached Tito’s yet Benny’s reply was, “Tito’s will do it”. He was immediately flooded with questions about the “Tito’s Series” even though it didn’t exist yet. At this point, it is an understatement to say that Benny was a little nervous.
The following week he sat with Tito’s management and presented the idea. They called him back and said they were intrigued by the idea. They came to an arrangement and agreed that the concept of the events would be family and fun oriented. To this end they came up with shirts, swag, beer sponsors, food sponsors, and competition grilling to foster the family, food, and fun part. Their promotion to these sponsors? – “Come along with us and have some fun”.
As Benny was planning for the inaugural 2017 year an angler called and suggested Coco Marina as a location for an event. Thus, the first event of the Series was set for that venue on April 01, 2017. Benny had a lot riding on this first event and he really wanted it to be a success. He really wanted to hit a home run for all the sponsors of the event but mostly for Tito’s because they had believed in him. And, as Benny noted, “As a company, they do everything right”. Benny was “extremely nervous”. He was really, really, hoping that he would get 50 boats to sign up.
Ninety-Five boats registered for the event!
The Coco Marina event was a huge success. Mike at Coco’s worked incredibly hard to make sure everything went smoothly. He arranged for tables, chairs, setup, takedown, and innumerable other tasks so necessary for an event to work right. But perhaps the most amazing thing Benny saw, the most telling occurrence, was that over thirty people stayed over until midnight after the event to help with the takedown and cleanup.
“It was truly a family atmosphere”, Benny said.
There was a camaraderie and a fellowship that he had never experienced at any other event. After all was done, he sat there fatigued beyond words but with a huge smile on his face. He had done it. It had worked. And, it was far better and much more satisfying than he could have ever imagined.
So, was 2017 a success? You bet it was! The next several events had well over 100 boats registered and competing in each event. By the end of that year, and five events later, 184 different two-man teams had participated in a Tito’s event! When asked about the drive behind the success of the first year Benny’s modest reply was, “I didn’t really do anything. I just had an idea”.
By the end of that year Benny felt that he truly had his finger on the pulse of the anglers. He talked to anyone that would listen. He listened to everyone, asked questions of the veterans, and then distilled all that information into useful components to keep improving the events.
All of which brings us to 2018 and the creation of America's Redfish Cup.
One of the things that he heard often was that many anglers wanted to fish a higher entry fee event. He contemplated this idea and consulted anglers that had been competing for many years. Armed with angler demand for a product, information from veterans, and a desire to keep building, Benny created the Tito’s Top Shelf event for 2018. This event will have an entry fee of $1500 and a payback that is unparalleled in the industry. With a full field of 75 boats and a payout to the Top Ten finishers, the winner will receive a check for $25,000 with tenth place receiving $3000.
For more information and registration visit the website at //www.americasredfishcup.com
We wanted learn a little more about the Tito’s Series so we had a Q & A session with Benny Sanchez:
RC: What lessons did you learn early on that have helped you achieve success with the Tito’s Series?
BS: “My dad was in the military and he always quoted the 6P rule to me - “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance”. I learned that I needed the right people to staff the event and the right reason to do an event. It needs to be about the anglers and the charity (Wish to Fish). I learned not to do things for me personally but to do things for the right reason. Most importantly I learned to separate being a ‘friend’ from being a ‘manager’. I had to learn to put my foot down and make a management decision when needed without considering the personal relationship involved.”
RC: Who or what influenced you the most to create a series of this kind of event?
BS: “It was the collective group of anglers out there who wanted to have an event that was competitive AND fun. They wanted an event that would be “theirs” and would relate more to family, friends, and fun. And it worked out. More families and people show up at every event just to be a part of something they feel has a more personal and less business-like atmosphere.”
RC: Who would you like to thank for helping you along the way?
BS: “Mostly, I would say that it would be the many anglers that have shared their thoughts about how events went and what I could do to be better. It was a collective really. But I do owe a special thanks to Barnie White, Gritter Griffin, and Chris Kennedy for helping me to become a better tournament director. Their years of experience both in management and as competitors has been a great resource for me.”
RC: Do you have a pet peeve?
BS: “People that don’t read the rules or listen to them during the Captain’s Meeting then come and ask me questions about things that are clearly written and explained.”
RC: Any final thoughts?
BS: “I get to meet all the great names in this sport and I have found that they are all approachable and helpful. I also get to meet all the new people that are joining the ranks. One part of the group has many wins and high finishes while the other part of the group has never won. But they all keep coming back for the fun part because it really is “their event”. My goal is to have as many participants as possible and to have as much fun as possible. The objective is not to put limits on people rather it is to include people. I want these events to be something people choose to do not something they have to do.”
The long and short of it is that the Tito’s events are here to stay and they are the most fun-filled, exciting, approachable events in the redfish competition world. Check out the tournament schedule right here on the Redfish Connection and join in the fun.
To most inshore fishermen today that would seem to be a very odd question. BUT, not so very many years ago, it was a reality!
Red drum have been a popularly targeted fish for over a century. Although not officially designated as a protected “game fish” until the 1980s, catching redfish has been a hot ticket item for a very long time. Unfortunately, they were really easy to catch in the bays and estuaries of the coastal regions of the US and most of those caught were of the 1-2 year old stock which began to decimate the offshore breeding populations by a significant degree. This decimation of the inshore juveniles led to fewer offshore “breeder” fish which, in conjunction with an offshore commercial frenzy of netting the huge schools of adults, led to a massive decline in the population.
Obviously, this decline of population led to great concern among anglers and to an increasingly sophisticated study of the redfish life cycle. Interruption points were defined, methods to increase numbers of breeders were more clearly stated, and angler education programs were instituted. Slowly, one by one, over the next 20 years, rules and laws were enacted by the coastal states to preserve that life cycle as much as possible.
We now have a very vigorous red drum fishery numbering higher than ever before historically documented. And I, for one, am very grateful to the marine biologists and environmentalists that brought the plight of the redfish to the forefront of conservation efforts. These efforts now extend throughout the coastal states and include massive education programs that inform the fishing public of the “whys” that the regulations are in place. This has led to a greater conformity by an educated recreational angler population that ensures the safety and continued propagation of the red drum for generations to come.
The formation of coordinated redfish competitions has served to further popularize this incredible game fish and to further the catch and release philosophy that is so important in maintaining the redfish population. As the popularity of competitive redfishing has grown so has the intensity of the competition.
Beginning about 15 years ago, redfishing as a competitive sport began to gain some real traction. Over the ensuing 10 years several organizations would spring up around this competitive frenzy. Most of them were doomed to a short life span due to poor management plans and agendas that were often in conflict with the anglers that were the very lifeblood of the sport. But, over time, a few would emerge that survived the fiery crucible that was to become the birthplace of competitive redfish tours and trails.
And while we are all out there searching for, and finding, those lovely reds that we know so well, don’t forget to offer up a silent thank you to the legions of concerned anglers, biologists, and legislators that have helped us to have this incredible resource in our lifetimes.
Also, don’t forget that it is our duty (and should be our passion) to promote the protection of our favorite species of game fish by educating our clients and the general fishing public with our words, our actions, and most importantly, with our deeds.
By Gritter Griffin
(The topic of this article may be a bit controversial but, with the popularity of redfish competition and the advent of an unprecedented number of events, it is a subject and discussion that is long past due.)
I have been catching, handling, and mis-handling redfish for a very long time. I was proud of my actions as a “catch and release” angler and thought I was being cognizant of our resource. I thought I was making a difference in the great scheme of things by releasing these fish to live, breed, and continue the legacy of our incredible sport fishery.
I was wrong.
Sadly, I have been ignorantly guilty of killing many of those “released” fish.
As most you are already aware, I am a strong advocate for the study of redfish in their natural habitat. I have learned a great deal about Sciaenops ocellatus, their life cycle, habitat, reproduction, and general behavior. I have also noted, with an increasing awareness, that our “catch and release” programs are somewhat of a farce.
That last sentence is, without a doubt, going to be a very unpopular statement but I can assure you - it is truth!
Oh yes, we pat ourselves on the back and talk about what a great job we are doing for the conservation of redfish by holding catch and release tournaments, but I would submit to you that we aren’t doing nearly as well as we may think. It all comes down to how the fish are handled. And that, my dear friends, is where we fail miserably.
Over the years I have paid attention to fish that suddenly “decide to die” in my livewell for no apparent reason. I have spent many hours contemplating these fish and making suppositions as to why they just “decide to quit”. I have spent a great deal of time replaying in my mind the entire story from hookup to death (including transport, weigh-in, and release) to see if I could come up with a common thread to explain the death of these fish. My conclusions are simple, accurate, and backed by scientific study.
In no particular order some of the things I have noted to be detrimental to the survival of the fish are:
Hanging Fish Vertically
Fish are conceived, born, grow, and thrive in an environment that is, essentially, weightless and nearly free of friction - think outer space. Due to these conditions, they can to move about with minimal effort and are not subject to the vagaries of gravity and friction in an open-air habitat. In their world if something is dropped it gently floats downward (or upwards) and does not crash to the ground. This is, quite obviously, due to the difference in the density coefficient of water versus air. It is this very environment that allows them to live a “horizontal life”. Their bodies and internal organs are supported and protected by the surrounding water and when lifted from the water they are subject to the full effects of gravity.
If the fish is supported properly and maintained in a horizontal posture there is almost no risk of permanent damage as long as the slime coating is protected as well.
But, when lifted from the water or off the deck in a vertical posture, these fish are subjected to extreme and abnormal forces that can damage their internal organs as well as the ligamentous structures of the mouth, gills, and jaw. This abrupt change in body posture with the associated downward G-forces that are further accentuated by the upward raising of the fish causes a sudden and harmful change in position of the internal organs with a high potential for damage.
Hanging fish vertically, usually for weighing or photos, also dramatically increases the risk of them being dropped from a height that can easily cause a potentially lethal injury. Bear in mind that a human only needs to fall four feet to generate enough force to rupture the aorta and cause instant death. Imagine the potential damage to a redfish falling onto a hard deck or the ground from five or six feet. It behooves us to stay down on the deck when we are handling our fish. Furthermore, it is not difficult to devise an apparatus in which the fish can lie horizontally and be completely supported while being weighed and subsequently placed in the livewell or released.
Placing Fish on Hot or Dry Surface
This is a topic that shouldn’t even really have to be mentioned. Just place your hand on the hot eye of a stovetop (or even your hot boat deck) for a second or two and you can quickly feel what you are subjecting your fish to – for several minutes!! The slime layer literally cooks, the eye is damaged, the scales themselves are damaged, the filaments of the gills are damaged, and depending on the time and temperature the combined injuries sustained means that laying a fish on a hot surface can become a lethal action in less than one minute.
Always have a location on your boat that is both cool and wet where you can safely lay the fish while determining whether you will release or keep the fish.
Using a Cloth, Towel, or Dry Glove to Handle Fish
This is a universally damaging method of handling fish. If you use any of these methods, you are removing the important and protective slime coating of the fish. In many cases this allows bacteria, parasites, and viruses access to the fish through the damaged area.
If you have been chasing reds for any length of time you have caught fish that have dark areas of scales that appear to be “dried up” or oddly shaped. These are areas where they have lost their slime coating and been attacked by opportunistic infections. Although not immediately lethal, these infections can eventually kill the fish.
This is a truly simple fix. Keep the fish wet, keep your hands wet, and handle the fish as little as possible.
Keeping Fish Out of Water
How long can you hold your breath? Don’t guess. Try it. Time it. One minute? Two? A redfish can’t “hold its breath” any longer than that either. From the very second you lift that fish from the water you are causing it to hold its breath. How long do you keep fish out of the water for measuring, weighing, and pictures? It is doubtless much longer than the minute or two you timed for yourself. Not only that but the fish is already exhausted from the fight to resist being brought onto your boat in the first place.
It doesn’t take too many minutes for the fish to become irretrievably exhausted to the point that the gill structures simply cannot recover. Short fights, short hook removal time, proper handling, and early return to water (livewell or release) are the keys to avoiding damage to the fish.
Handling by the Lower Jaw Only
This is one of the primary causes of delayed death in redfish. It is also the maneuver that very few anglers are aware is damaging to the fish. Almost universally, anglers will hold redfish by the lower jaw with the thumb in the mouth and the knuckle of the index finger under the jaw. This causes the joint of the jaw to act as a lever with more than the full weight of the fish being supported at that joint. Remember the breath holding experiment we did a bit ago? This time imagine yourself being held in a similar posture with your entire body weight being levered upwards at the joint of your jaw. Unpleasant thought, right?
The ligamentous structures, joint capsule, and anatomy of the jaw simply cannot tolerate this pressure and universally (yes, that’s 100% of the time) there is damage to the jaw joint creating a disability of varying degree for the fish to use its mouth. These fish are released and appear to be “healthy and alive” but some are doomed to die a death of starvation if the damage is significant enough that the fish cannot use its lower jaw to catch and eat food.
Grabbing a Fish Through the Gill Plate
There is a proper and relatively safe method to perform this maneuver, but it is very rarely done properly.
Somehow this crazy practice became an alternative to picking a fish up by the jaw and it is worse, far worse. The damage potential when lifting a fish by putting fingers through the gill area is vastly higher than with any other method and the damage caused is far more permanent and disabling.
It doesn’t require a long explanation regarding why we shouldn’t use this method because the answer is far too obvious. If you damage the capability of the fish to breathe (the gills) you have damaged the ability of the fish to survive – period.
Simple solution – Just don’t do it.
Extended Fight Time
This is another area with a simple fix. Use tackle and line that will allow you to have an unfair advantage. Yes, I’m saying to make it an unfair fight. Of course, it already is but it needs to be made an ironclad, guaranteed win for you and therefore for the fish as well.
This makes a lot of sense in competition because you don’t want to be breaking off that winning fish. Neither do you want that fatty to be dying in your livewell. So, use heavier line, heavier rods, strong reels with excellent drag mechanisms, and get that fish to the boat, in the net, and to the livewell as rapidly as possible.
There are several very good studies indicating that the fatigue factor is a strong contributor to delayed death in fish that are subsequently released. If you add to that fatigue by further delaying returning the fish to the water the detrimental effects are compounded.
Always remove hooks as quickly and gently as possible. Fish that are hooked deep in the throat, back of the tongue, gills, and roof of the mouth require special care and a decision to perhaps leave the hook in place and cut the line as close to the eye as possible.
Hooks left in fish mouths, throats and tongues are not nearly as damaging as a poor removal. There is good evidence that a fish can dislodge a hook from its mouth in as little as one to three days and continue about its business whereas the damage sustained from a difficult removal may very well prove to be lethal.
I am amazed at how many people do not understand how important an appropriate livewell is for maintaining the health of the fish. Size of the well, water flow, temperature, frequent water change, and aeration are all of paramount importance.
Constant high-volume water flow and repetitive water changes are absolutely necessary to remove waste products that accumulate as well as to allow the fish adequate dissolved oxygen to “breathe” while in this confined environment. Keeping the water relatively cool and properly aerated are also extremely important aspects of maintaining healthy fish in the livewell.
Neglecting even one of these components can stress the fish enough to cause a delayed death. Be as studious about your livewell as you are about your tackle and gear and all will be well.
In the end, we can all improve our methods of handling fish and most especially those that we intend to release. If we are true to our beliefs and wish to honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment and our beloved fisheries, then we must try to give every released fish the very best chance of survival possible.
I have already confessed that I was indeed ignorant of the damage I was doing to our beloved redfish. But I have made, and continue to make, a concerted effort to treat my fish better in the hopes that I am truly respecting the animal and its environment.