Bass Conservation 101: 10 Proven Tips for Sustainable Fishing
Bass is easily the most popular game fish in the United States, and they've even garnered attention in countries they’re not native to. For example, Japan, a country that does not spawn its own bass naturally, has several competitive fisheries with largemouth bass in them, and people pay big money to target them.
However, while bass seems plentiful in the US when you go to great spots, they’re actually threatened. Sure, they’re not endangered or anything like that, but if anglers don’t take action now, our bass populations can decline, and the sport will be affected dramatically.
Ensuring the preservation and growth of bass populations is crucial to enable future generations of anglers to enjoy excellent American bass fishing experiences without facing disappointments frequently. Bass conservation plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal.
Today, we’re going to provide you with a number of things you can do to make sure our bass populations are protected and thrive well into the future.
1: Protect the Environment
First and foremost, any effort you make to help a fishery starts by treating that fishery with respect. Too many anglers, especially casual fishermen, damage the same places they love to spend their weekends fishing at.
You’ve probably seen this in action at your local fisheries. You go to walk the banks, and you find rotting bait or gutted fish all over the place, lines that were cut just floating in the water, lures and terminal tackle laying all over the place, and most likely, a lot of trash from all the snacks and drinks previous fishermen left behind.
That stuff gets in the water and becomes a real pain for the bass. They can swallow old lures and get hurt by the hooks, wrapped up in line or trash and die a slow death, or be poisoned as toxic materials decompose in the water.
It’s not just bass that this affects, either.
When you disrespect the natural environment, everything in that environment is affected. Other fish species suffer the same problems as the bass do, ducks and every other type of wildlife get caught in your trash, and when the fish are sick from the water being tainted, the animals eating those fish suffer the consequences of your actions, too.
If the wildlife suffering doesn’t bother you, consider the fact that you rely on that wildlife as well. No one wants to fish in a dirty fishery, and if you eat those fish, you eat what they were eating, too.
Respecting the waterways and your natural environment is the best way to start protecting bass and promoting bass conservation. Pack up all your trash and tackle and leave the area better than it was when you arrived. This includes picking up after lazy, disrespectful anglers who left their trash behind, too. Don’t worry. You’re technically picking up after someone else but wait until responsible anglers catch the lazier bunch red-handed. Respecting the environment is highly valued among anglers, and failure to do so can result in a negative reputation within the fishing community.
2: Don’t Eat Them
Some people do consume bass. They are edible, after all. However, there is a reason the community has turned to the Catch, Photograph, and Release method (CPR).
When you catch a bass and take it home like you would bluegill or catfish, you reduce their numbers and make the chance of them proliferating in the water and growing to trophy-worthy sizes a lot lower. This makes it a lot harder to catch substantial bass in the future, and the entire fishing community suffers because of it. Without CPR, many sport fishermen, and especially casual weekend warriors, would experience getting skunked far more than we already do.
You won't leave empty-handed when you practice CPR. You can take a quick photograph, and you definitely get bragging rights for big catches. Plus, the fish gets to return to the water and hopefully spawn more substantial bass in the long run. So, you get a more productive fishery.
This goes for all game fish. If you like reeling in the biggest example of a species possible and breaking your personal record, don’t take those fish home. You’re hurting your own hobby by doing that.
Plus, if you absolutely want a fish fry, there are plenty of species that the average person doesn’t consider CPR for, and they’re typically easier to catch than bass. So, there’s really no reason to eat bass, anyway.
3: Don’t Use Them as Bait
This is one that puts catfish lovers and bass anglers at odds very frequently. It’s a running joke among those who target flatheads that our bass is nothing but bait for their monster-sized cats.
That might be true, and bass might work for live bait when targeting those big species, but that’s helping destroy an entire genre of sport fishing when plenty of other live bait species are just as effective.
Bass are game fish. They do not need to be used for bait, and just like our last point, using bass as live bait or cut bait greatly reduces their numbers and ruins the fishing in the area. If you want to be able to catch big bass, don’t throw the little ones on live bait rigs. While it might seem like you’re the only one doing it, and it isn’t making a big impact, consider what the impact would be if a lot of people did it. The bass population would be ravaged.
If you want to use live bait, there are acceptable non-game species such as bluegill and shiners, and they’re proven to work exceptionally well.
This isn’t just a tip aimed at catfish lovers, either. Many people targeting practically any large North American fish species make a habit of using bass to provide a “more substantial” meal to their prey. It’s simply not worth it no matter what you’re targeting.
4: Respect Your Catch
If you grew up fishing decades ago, you were probably taught to lip the bass, take your photo, and chuck it back in the water. That is a horrible way to handle the fish, and it contributes to unnecessary bass deaths all the time.
When you fight a fish, you tire it out and sometimes send it into shock. It’s important that, when you’re returning the fish to the water, you do so in a way that lets it regain its strength and swim off naturally. This is easy. Just bend down, hold the belly of the fish with both hands to support it, and help it stay upright until it swims off. Most bass will immediately take off and be just fine, but you will occasionally get one that just floats in your hands for a few moments. Those are the ones that would have died if you just haphazardly chucked them back in. Not to mention, you risk bouncing the fish off rocks and other dangerous hazards when you throw them. That can kill a healthy fish outright.
What you do while you’re dehooking and photographing the fish is also important. Everyone who is into bass fishing knows how to lip a bass. It’s not a horrible thing to do, and with smaller fish, you can do it without being harmful to the fish.
However, bigger bass need to be handled more respectfully.
The weight of a big bass can damage its jaw when you lip it. There have been cases of their jaws coming completely detached, and that is basically signing the fish’s death certificate. When you get a fairly hefty bass, get your thumb in its lip like you normally would, but support it underneath its belly to alleviate the stress put on its jaw by gravity. If you need to use both hands to remove the hook, gently lay it down on a clean patch of grass and work quickly. Try not to get dirt in its gills, eyes, or mouth.
5: Use Single Hooks
There is a clear strategic advantage to using rigs that use multiple lures and hooks. You mimic an entire school of fish, and you have more chances to catch a bass. However, this also creates a lot of problems.
When you use complicated multi-hook rigs, you do two things.
First, there’s a higher chance of the bass getting multiple hooks in its mouth or gut, and this can lead to fatal hooking.
Second, during the fight, those extra hooks can gravely wound the bass by cutting its side, tail, and fins. It’s never good to have a bunch of sharp hooks flying around the fish while you fight it.
There are some convenience problems with this method, too. You might have to unhook several hooks before you can release the fish, your chance of getting snagged is a lot higher, and it takes forever to tie those rigs up.
6: Avoid Trebles
Treble hooks are common on a lot of lures, and we’re not telling you to never use them. However, you shouldn’t rely on them as your go-to hook.
When a treble hook is gutted, it’s nearly impossible to get it out without killing the fish. The extra prongs also make the likelihood of popping a hook through an eye or a dangerous part of the face a serious concern.
Luckily, many lure brands are switching to single-hook setups, and you can switch out the treble hooks on many lures without throwing off the lure’s action.
Try to do so when possible. You increase your chances of a clean catch and release, and single hooks work just fine.
7: Use the Right Hook
If you’re targeting large bass, use an appropriate hook size. If you use one that’s too small, the likelihood of it getting swallowed is a lot higher, and any time a fish swallows a hook, there’s a good chance it won’t survive for long. While you don’t see the damage, its internal organs have likely been punctured or ripped.
Using an appropriately sized hook helps minimize hook swallowing considerably.
8: Work on Your Hook Set
Again, this is a tip related to preventing fish from swallowing hooks.
In an effort to make sure the bass doesn’t lose its grip on the lure, a lot of anglers wait too long to set the hook. Usually, this will cause you to lose the fish because they’ll spit it and run. However, when that doesn’t happen, it’s because they swallowed it. Learn the right time to set the hook, and you’ll get proper hook sets that don’t hurt the fish.
9: Stop Using Dumb Bait Hacks
This is a big one. If you watch a bunch of fishing “hack” videos, you’ll learn some really dumb things. These include tips such as dousing your lures in WD-40, adding soap and other chemicals to your lures, or introducing items that otherwise should not be used.
First, none of those things work. You’re just wasting WD-40 or whatever else you were told to use. Second, you’re poisoning the water. That’s bad for the entire local ecosystem.
The only things you should be using are proper lures, baits, and bait additives designed to be eco-friendly.
10: Source Your Bait Responsibly
Finally, we have a tip that even a lot of seasoned fishermen don’t think of. Let’s say you went to a new lake yesterday, caught a bunch of shiners, and kept them in your life for a second trip today. However, you’re going to a new pond. Did you know that using those shiners is a major threat to the pond you’re fishing in, and it’s illegal in some counties?
That’s because you can spread disease that way.
If you use live bait, you should either buy the bait from an appropriate bait shop, or you should catch the bait in the fishery you’re fishing at. This prevents you from introducing new diseases to the fishery and wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem.
This goes for cut bait, too. Don’t turn any dead catches into cut bait if you’re not using it in the fishery you caught it from.
We thank you for taking interest in bass conservation in the United States, and if you need more tips on bass fishing, try the BassForecast app. If you are new to bass fishing and would like to learn more about choosing the right equipment, ideal lure and baits, and finding a good location for fishing, read our comprehensive Guide on Bass Fishing for Beginners for detailed instructions and tips.