If you are a tournament angler who gets really stressed out during competition, then you and the bass have something in common.
Stress is not the equivalent of frazzled nerves as most people think. Strictly speaking, it is not a nervous response at all. Instead, stress is a set of physiological or biochemical reactions by your body to harmful or adverse situations be they long-term or short-term. The totality of these reactions is referred to as the stress syndrome, and it is common to fish. In other words, the bass fighting at the end of a line goes through the same set of physiological reactions as the frustrated angler fighting foul weather, foul tackle and a partner who's about to drive him insane. A bass struggling against a taut line exhibits all the classic symptoms of stress. The initial, almost immediate response is the release of hormones with profound and multiple effects. Some of these changes are good for the bass, momentarily energizing the bass for a stronger fight. But when the stress ends the bass has to expend energy to get back to normal, exhausting the bass's energy supply.
A bass's stress response increases with water temperature quality and with stress duration. A lengthy play in warm, low-oxygenated, contaminated water is far worse than a short play in cool, clean water.
But it is known that angling by itself is not usually so stressful as to kill bass. So in reality pure catch-and-release tactics probably cause very little bass mortality. Unfortunately large bass are particularly susceptible to heavy tournament mortalities, as their livewell requirements are more demanding. The best way to minimize stress associated with confinement in livewells (and weigh-in bags) is to follow the same guide lines as professional fish haulers: 1) calm the fish; 2) cool and aerate the water; 3) add lots of salt.
Stress due to angling itself can be minimized by following one simple rule keep the playing time as short as possible. Good aeration in a livewell is an absolute must to maintain good fish health. Most bass boats come equipped with a recirculating aeration system. This is a good start but it should be supplemented with some type of bubbling apparatus is possible. At low ambient water temperatures (less than 60oF), there's no need to worry about it. However, when the ambient water temperature rises (72oF or higher) the livewell should be cooled by several degrees. Cooler temperatures retard bacterial growth, numb the fish and increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the water. The most viable means of lowering livewell temperature is to add bags of ice. It's preferable to keep the ice in a
plastic bag, both to slow down the rate of cooling and to avoid chlorine contamination.
Finally, livewells should contain salt concentrations high enough to reverse a bass's stress-induced loss of blood electrolytes. Fish haulers have found that bass do well when kept in water closely matching their blood salinity. As a rough rule of thumb, mixing ? to 1-cup salt (non-iodized) to every 10 gallons of water.
There is no real magic for curing tournament stress in bass. Commercial livewell preparations may help, but they are not the answer. Staying in tune with the physical needs of the bass at all times is.