How deep

HOW DEEP is too deep?

It’s been decades ago, but I remember the situation to this day. I was on the backside of the “big island” at Lake Casitas, sometime in the winter,  jigging spoons. And it was deep. No exaggeration, we caught fish in at least 70 feet of water.

But more than the bravado of “wow, look what we did!” I remember, none of the fish measured the legal minimum length of 12 inches. And none of them survived–each of them drifting out its final moments, struggling weakly on its side.

A bit of an ethical dilemma, we really wanted to utilize the fish since clearly they were not going to make it. But neither did we want to be cited for possessing “short” fish. So, to this day, unless there is no other option, if I can fish shallower than a “safe” 25 feet or so, that’s where you’ll find me.

I’m not a crusader, true. I know about “needling” air bladders and I know a few fishermen and tourney staff guys who are experts at the method. But not one of those technical experts can tell me more than the “fish swam away,” or add they never saw the fish “float up.” That’s not conclusive to me. Out of sight/out of mind is not scientific proof that everything is okay.

Likewise, I once encountered a professor from Cal Poly SLO years ago who was testing black bass tolerances in a pressure chamber of some kind who said or wrote that the physiological damage to bass pulled from 30 feet or more was virtually fatal in every case. But then, his work was pretty much forgotten.

Right now, however, the DFW is conducting studies on barotrauma (the effects of physical damage to body tissues caused by a difference in pressure between an air space inside the body and the surrounding water). In fact, this Saturday, an environmental scientist will be using the Anglers Marine Owners Tournament at Diamond Valley to gather more information on the realities of taking fish out of deep water.

While we will have to wait for the complete results of the study, the logic of the matter if fish prove not to be adjusting favorably to significant “atmospheric” changes, it could shape the way agencies regulate catch-and-release. And should those findings indicate high, latent mortality, I won’t be surprised at a ban of both winter and late summer reservoir tournaments.

Don’t you be surprised.



11 Responses to “Deep caught bass? We may not like the truth…”

Well one way to look at it that would cost some Inland Region DFW biologists a job or two is there are no bass native to California, so why are you protecting invasive species? There is certainly no ecological reason.

From the case of bass fishermen who respect the sport and think the fish are to be treasured, catch and release makes sense.

There has been much study of barotrauma in both the Pacific and Gulf states looking to create fishing opportunities while protecting native species with impacted populations.

Studies have found that fish that are returned to their original depth have high survival rates. They also found the fish can’t get there on their own in many instances.

Several deep release devices have been invented and none more effective than one introduced at last summer’s ICAST show, the SeaQuilizer from Fish Smart Tackle. This device uses water pressure to trigger the release mechanism. There is some great underwater video of it working on grouper off Florida. Units are now available for as low as $49, at least that’s what I heard at recent tackle dealer shows.

Meanwhile, money tournaments mean fish are going to die. If every precaution is used to limit mortality when possible, the best being weight penalties, there should be no squawking from government agencies. Of course that’s like saying there should be true 100 percent paybacks : – )

I agree that we, as tournament fisherman, should be doing everything possible to protect the fishery but the DFW has set daily bag limits of 5 bass per person per day. Presumably that is based on a rational assessment of the ability of the fishery to sustain that level of harvest. So it’s confusing to me that there seems to be a zero tolerance when it comes to mortality as it relates to a small percentage of tournament caught fish.

At the very least I am hopeful that the process of studying this renewed concern of barotrauma is done with transparency and their methods and results are made available publically for us all to digest and possibly critique.

The key for me is understanding what really happens to fish caught in tournaments that are affected by barotrauma. Particularly in waters with large amounts of pressure and with populations of fish that habitually reside in deeper water. It does every angler, tournament or not, no good to not understand what role their recreational activities play in the population dynamics in an enclosed system, especially the relatively small enclosed systems in SoCal. Banning recreational opportunities is not an option as far as I am concerned. Finding a balance to maximize recreational and economic opportunites while promoting for a healthy, viable, sustainable biological system is the only option.

Thats fantastic Kwin. I agree with you 100%. One of my concerns is that rumors are circulating that tournament operations will be further restricted both in terms of bag limits and seasonaly. These restrictions are rumored to extend far beyond DVL. If there is good evidence to support such restrictions then we should all get behind them. So, I guess a question that I have had for a long time (and this appears to be as good of a time to ask it as any) is how does a concerned angler get ahold of the science and methodology behind such decision making? Are these studies published somewhere? Where can we go to find them?

Once again George stirs the pot and it should be. I don’t think that a bass residing in 40ft or more of water is counting on getting hooked. As a result, it gets to the surface faster than it would on its own and that’s where the problem lies.

The real question is – how many fish did the tournament angler catch “deep” before presenting his/her bag for weigh-in?

If you want to fish deep and adhere to the rules then catch 5 (keep or release) and then fish at a safer depth or call it a day.

And don’t blame “government agencies” – convenient as it might be.

If you send me your e-mail I have pdf’s of some of the studies I have read on the issue I can pass on. I will attempt to publish my findings with this study once it is completed.

“How many were caught deep before weighing in” is a variable that is very hard to understand or monitor. I know there are fish affected by barotrauma that never make it to the scale. I don’t know yet how to address this variable.

by Jason Prewitt

It really doesnt matter that LMB are not indigenous to California waters. Considering that many California bodies of water are manmade in the first place, especially in Southern California, the idea that LMB are invasive is really a non sequitur. DFW biologists are burdened with the responsibility of managing sport resources. Not just indigenous populations and ecosystems. I am actually grateful that they are doing barotrauma analyses. Kwin mentions that accurate data for individuals is hard to quantify. The only answer for that is probably time. Perhaps many years before data becomes significant.

It seems like our bass populations are doing just fine. But if there is a concern regarding mortality and reason for it they simply need to put in new regulations regarding the depth at which you can fish, just as they’re do with rockfish in saltwater. Perhaps as George suggest bass fishermen should not target bass under 25 feet or so. You really can’t regulate or enforce proper release techniques.

I could go on forever about the current direction of management in the newly renamed Department of Fish and Wildlife, but I want to point out that everyone who replied missed out on what I feel is most significant: there are proven, effective methods for releasing deep caught fish. And they are easily within the economic reach of a community that drives modern bass boats with big outboards and is willing to plop down as much as $100 for a single swimbait. At the very least the impact of catch and release would be significantly reduced by the immediate safe release of short fish during tournaments and all fish during practice and fun fishing.

by Chris Stockdale

Kwin-Tom asked for transparency and their methods and results are made available publically for us all to digest and possibly critique.All!?Not just for his viewing.There are many out here that would like to view this info.So if you have some info on this subject could you make it available for all?