I t’s big bass time in Texas, which means plenty of photos of big fish will be shared on social media near and far.
I always enjoy inspecting pictures of big fish, especially lunker largemouth bass, those that reach double digits in weight and are rare prizes for even the most seasoned of anglers.
However, I also hate seeing those frames that capture the exact wrong way to hold a big bass. You’ve likely seen them, too, with all the hallmarks of the best intentions gone terribly wrong. A broad-grinning angler hoists up a 10- or 11-pound sow bass above shoulder level, pinching a death grip on its bucket mouth with thumb and forefinger, flexing its jaw in a way that’s far from natural and stressing it within an inch of its life.
It’s no wonder that some of the largest specimens of the most sought catch-and-release fishery simply expire due to the rigors of being winched from the depths below and the added stress that comes from human interaction.
In its natural environment, the largemouth is king, with a big fish having no real threats—other than when it falls for the wrong ruse and meets up with a human.
A number of 13-pound bass or larger destined for the ShareLunker program have died before making it to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. This happens mostly because of not being cared for properly and could be any number of causes that human interaction brings with it.
Stashing a big fish in a small live well is never a good idea for long periods, nor is continuing to move the creature from holding tank to tank and exposing it to more stress.
The ShareLunker program, which runs through April, accepts entries of pure Florida largemouths weighing 13 pounds or more and uses the fish to spawn and create more bass that are stocked into lakes across the state.
The biggest thing to remember with any catch is to stress the fish as little as possible—which usually means handling them as little as possible.
Here are some tips for handling big bass, including when raising the fish for a snapshot:
• Wet your hands before touching the fish.
• 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 rear of the fish with your other hand placed beneath the fish just ahead of the tail.
• Lift the fish out of the water in a horizontal position using both hands for support.
• Do not hold the fish by the lower jaw in a vertical position. This can dislocate or break the jaw, essentially putting a death sentence on the bass.
• Handle the fish only when putting it into a livewell or holding tank. Do not keep the fish out of the water or keep removing it from the water for photographs.
• If you must handle the fish, try to do so out of the wind and keep it out of the water as little as possible. Wind can dry out the eyes and gills quickly, resulting in further damage.
Next time you have the opportunity to hoist a big bass for a photo, make sure you’re doing it the right way. Then promptly release it, so you or another lucky angler has the chance to catch it again, and so it can produce more fish for future generations to enjoy.
It’s going to be a great spring, filled with hefty largemouths across Texas. Just make sure your impromptu meeting is short and sweet with the biggest fish you may ever see.
For more information, visit: tpwd.texas.gov/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/sharelunker.
Email Will Leschper at
—BY Will Leschper
An initiative to improve wildlife and wild turkey habitat in Texas recently received federal funding through the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
The Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture, a collaboration between the National Wild Turkey Federation as the lead, along with Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will receive $2.9 million to address significant declines in grassland wildlife populations and the loss of natural water-cycle conditions.
The joint venture will administer the grant through their Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP). The program aims to help landowners pay for grassland restoration work, including range planting, controlled burning and invasive plant control, according to a news release.
In its first three years, the program has paid out more than $1.1 million, which has restored wildlife grassland habitat on more than 57,000 acres. For more information visit: www.nwtf.org.
High schoolers across the Lone Star State can learn about the great outdoors in a variety of camps focused on different wildlife species and habitats.
The Texas Brigades is a wildlife- and natural resources-focused leadership development program for high school students ages 13 to 17. There are eight different camps with six themes: Bobwhite Brigade, Buckskin Brigade, Bass Brigade, Waterfowl Brigade, Ranch Brigade and Coastal Brigade. During each five-day camp, participants are introduced to habitat management. They also hone their communication skills and develop a land ethic.
“If you are interested in biology, conservation, leadership, or just appreciate the outdoors, you should consider applying to one of our camps,” said Jared Laing, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department biologist.
The camps are held on private ranches and at natural resource education and research locations in different areas of the state. In addition to learning animal anatomy and behavior, botany, nutrition, habitat management, population dynamics and more, campers learn valuable leadership skills.
Camp tuition allows Texas Brigades to provide a unique experience for each individual. Financial assistance may be available to assist in covering the $500 tuition.
The Waterfowl Brigade program exposes participants to a week of intensive waterfowl and wetland conservation education, much of which is hands-on. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff provide most of the instruction with assistance from a variety of volunteers and organizations, including Ducks Unlimited.
Waterfowl Brigade participants will study aquatic vegetation, the importance of wetland ecosystems, waterfowl biology, land and water stewardship, natural resource management and how to identify waterfowl.
Becoming an effective conservation advocate is also accomplished with lessons on life skills, such as working as a team, improved public speaking and communication and leadership. There are activities involving photography, journaling and painting. Hunting skills, safety and ethics are also covered.
The Waterfowl Brigade camp will be held July 16 to 20 in the wetlands and flooded timber of the Big Woods on the Trinity. Applications are open until March 15 for interested campers and adult leaders and are available online. Go to <http://www.texasbrigades.org/Applications/2017-Applications.html
—By Andi Cooper