Striped Bass Catch and Release Tactics
Far too often, I watch fishermen as they reel in their striped bass, let it flop around in the sand, drag it back up on shore because they forgot their pliers to remove the hooks or their phone to take a picture. Without hesitating, minutes have passed before he or she, grips the bass by the gill plate walks to the water’s edge and gives it toss, watching it splash down in the surf, dazed and confused.
While these fish may seem resilient and it may have seemed to swim off strong, there are a lot of aspects in which fishermen can improve handling of striped bass in order to ensure a healthy release. Below, you will find 5 key strategies that I utilize in order to promote the healthiest release possible. If you learn one thing or already utilize these tactics, help spread the word to other fishermen you know who may need in improvements in their catch and releases practices. In doing so, we can work together as a fishing community to help these striped bass recover once and for all!
Number 1: Go heavy with your gear!
Far too often I get criticized for using gear that many consider overkill or too heavy duty for striped bass fishing. My TFO 10’6” paired with my VS200 loaded up with 50 pound power pro connected to an 80lb barrel swivel, 40lb fluorocarbon and a 125lb TA Clip, is used for one specific reason! Every time I hit the surf, I want to be prepared to battle a 50lber, and this is the gear needed for that. More importantly though, heavy duty gear ensures this; the quickest fight possible limiting stress on striped bass. Ask yourself, how many times you have seen these guys with their ultralight setups hooked up to a medium sized bass and by the time they get that 20+ lber in, the thing is so gassed and goes belly up. Even if it is revived, that thing was just put through so much stress ad exhaustion, it will probably croak a few minutes after being released.
All for the fun of the fight?
Sure, the fight is fun. But, isn’t it just as fun being able to say that you quickly fought this fish and watched it swim off strong without hesitation? If you are currently using primarily light tackle, switch things up and don’t be afraid to go a little heavier. I promise, the reward of watching that fish swim off strong rather than being worried about having to revive it, will be a great feeling for all!
A healthy 39 incher that feel for a 12 inch eel skin Sluggo. My 10’6” inch TFO paired with the VS200 ensured and quick fight and a healthy release!
Number 2: Keep the fish out of the water for less than 10 seconds
This goes back to the story I told in the beginning. The guy who keeps the fish on the sand or in the rocks for minutes on end while he stumbles for his tape measure, pliers or phone. Yeah, 3 minutes later when you release that thing, it will probably float belly up and drift out of reach. A donation to the food bank for the seals and great whites. Striped bass are meant to be in the ocean just like we are meant to breathe air. Imagine yourself submerged in a pool. 30 seconds goes by, you’re feeling alright, a minute comes up and now you start to struggle. The difference, you are able to pop right up to the surface. That striped bass, however, is pleading to get back in the water as you struggle to find your gear.
My advice, I like to keep the fish in the water at all times. I carry my pliers, a knife, and boga grips on my surf belt and a tape measure in my wader’s pocket. This allows me to not have to wade back up on shore for something that I may have forgot. Furthermore, if carrying my phone or with someone who carries their phone, I will have it set to a timer of 10 seconds. This ensures that when a picture is ready to be taken, the striped bass can quickly come out of the water and then put right back in. Better yet, take a picture with the striped bass still in the water!
By limiting their time out of the water, we can decrease stress, damage to their eyes and gill plate. Another tactic I utilize is that before just releasing them, I will hold them in the water moving them in a figure eight motion, allowing for water to circulate through their gill. By doing so, I am able to feel when the fish is truly ready to “kick off” and go on its way. This strategy will once again increase the survival rate upon release.
This early season schoolie was quickly unhooked, kept in the water and swam off strong. The future of our fishery!
Number 3: Avoid using the boga grip and holding the fish vertical
The infamous boga grip, a surfcaster’s best friend. Remember the days of trying to gain control of that striped bass in order to get the hooks out of its mouth as it viciously thrashed around? Maybe you were one of the unlucky ones who ended up with a treble imbedded in their hand. The boga grip now allows fishermen to gain control of their catch, however, it has a lot of downfalls to it.
The use of a boga grip can often lead to the dislocation of the jaw and shifting of the organs. While held vertical, the weight of the fish is putting immense pressure on the jaw, which it is not meant to handle. Although the fish may seem fine, its feeding ability will be affected due to the damage done to the jaw. This will drastically increase mortality rates. Moreover, as the fish was held vertical, the organs have now shifted, moving out of place. Organs aren’t supposed to work like that, shifting up and down, left and right. This could lead to digestive issues within the fish, once again increasing its risk of mortality. I will be the first to admit, I still use my boga grip. However, I make small adjustments that help increase survivability upon release.
For example, hold the fish horizontal if it is attached to the boga. This will ensure the organs do not shift and will also place minimal pressure on the jaw. Also, by keeping the fish in the water, there is little pressure actually being applied by the boga, however, it still allows for control making it easy to remove hooks. Furthermore, most fishermen use a boga grip for one thing, to get a weight on their trophy catch. I challenge you to no longer worry about the weight of your fish and instead opt for a conservative approach, obtaining a quick length and girth measurement. The weight might not come as accurate, but more often than not it is within a few pounds, give or take.
Notice how the fish is supported under the stomach and gripped by the jaw, minimizing the pressure of the boga grip
Number 4….Use single hooks!
How many times have you had a striped bass engulf your lure and inhale a treble hook halfway down its throat? Or maybe that treble got lodged into the gill plate and the fish is now pissing blood faster than Usain Bolt in the 200m sprint. I like using single hooks for several reasons. First, it makes it much easier for unhooking the fish, which not only saves me time but also ensures the fish is quickly released back into the water. Secondly, by using single hooks there is a lot less damage done to the jaw. Think of it, only one piercing through the jaw instead of three?
Take your pick.
Many times before I have heard people say that if a striped bass has inhaled your treble hook, to just cut it off and it will rust away. Sure this is true, but what happens when that fish inhales a mackerel before that treble is fully rusted and now its throat is lodged with not only a hook but a 12 inch appetizer. By using single hooks, we can ensure an easier release, less damage to the jaw and minimize time out of the water.
The four tactics listed above are just of few that you can implement or improve on, in order to promote catch and release of striped bass. Already use one of these tactics? Add in one or two more to decrease mortality rate upon release by that much more. ASMFC states that 90 percent of striped bass mortality is because of us recreational guys. Whether you agree or disagree with this, let’s start adding these tactics to our game in order to promote catch and release within the striped bass industry!
This healthy slot fish fell for an SP Minnow rigged with single hooks, allow for quick removal of the hooks and minimal damage to the jaw.
I urge you to spread the message along to like-minded anglers and those new to the sport. I will be the very first to admit, that I was not always following these tactics to the best of my ability. I am guilty of having kept fish out of the water, released ones that most likely didn’t make it and have kept my fair share of trophy fish for the dinner plate. However, I have realized what my actions have done and I have spent the past few years doing everything in my power to save these fish, seven stripes at a time.