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River Valley Outdoors
Catching and releasing fish effectively
The old statement, “Things aren’t always as they seem to be,” holds plenty of truth for me, especially after a fishing experience a few weeks ago.
Temperatures in the River Valley soared into the low nineties, so I decided to do a little wet-wading in the Androscoggin River. When I wet-wade, I step into the current without my traditional waders – wearing only a shirt, a pair of shorts, and wading boots. Heavy waders make summer fishing too hot, and I enjoy cooling off and fishing at the same time.
This particular day I caught three 18-inch smallmouth bass within an hour and a half, and had only waded about two hundred yards of the river. As noon approached, I laid my line into a shallow area that usually has a fish hiding under the thick brush in the bank. The water exploded as soon as the fly hit the water’s surface, and I could see the bronze back of the muscular bass rise above the surface of the water as it attacked the imitation at the end of my leader.
The surprised fish lurched from the shallow water, into faster moving deep water, as soon as he felt the tug of the line. The line I had stripped in quickly slipped through my fingers and, in no time at all, I had to fight the big bass from the reel.
This big fish made several runs, two superb leaps, and then slowly gave in to the strength of my seven-weight Loomis rod. After removing the hook, I measured the golden-bronze trophy at 20 inches. At that length, his weight will run right around four pounds. I took great pains to thoroughly revive the tired fish, and then let him back into his area of the river.
Ten minutes later, as I fished another hole about 50 yards away from that area, I noticed a splashing back where I had landed the 20-incher. My jaw must have hung open as I watched the same big bass flop itself out of the water and onto the shallow, gravel bar near the shore.
When I approached the fish, it didn’t make a move to get away from me, so I reached down and gently grabbed it by the bottom lip. The fish moved its gills in an attempt to breath, but I could tell the huge smallmouth was completely played out.
I floated the fish over to a portion of the river that had cool, bubbling water flowing swiftly through some small rocks, and held the bass in that oxygenated current. After a good five minutes of this treatment the bass suddenly kicked a few times on its own. I grabbed the tail of the fish and released it only when the bass was strong enough to pull away under its own power. The re-charged fish moved back into some deeper water, near the shallow section where I first caught it.
I truly believe that if I hadn’t found the fish flopping on the gravel bar, it would have died. The whole scene kept playing out in my mind and really got me thinking how important it is to take extra precautions when practicing “catch and release” fishing.
My initial, failed attempt at reviving the big smallmouth bass bothered me so much that I called Bob VanRiper, a fisheries biologist at the Region D office in Strong, to ask if I could have done anything else to help the fish.
“Anglers catch and release a lot of fish,” said VanRiper, “and occasionally some fish don’t make it – that’s just the way it is. Most anglers that practice catch-and-release fishing do all the right things, but sometimes a fish just doesn’t make it.”
In talking with the helpful biologist, we determined that I had done all that I could do to help the fish regain strength enough to return to the water. The one factor I maybe hadn’t given enough thought to could have been the extremely warm temperatures that week.
From now on, I definitely will take more time when releasing fish – especially when the temperatures stay near the 90’s for a few days in a row. That remarkable 20-inch smallmouth bass probably took a decade or two to get that size, so I’ll gladly take the extra precaution.