Warm water can be tough on fish. Hatcheries avoid handling and transporting fish during warm seasons. The mortality of tournament-caught bass goes up in the summer, too.

Although increased mortality is a common outcome of summer tournaments, it doesn't have to be. There are simple things anglers and tournament organizers can do to keep survival high.

Modern bass boats have adequate livewell systems for keeping bass alive in any season. In cooler seasons - when the water temperature is below 75 degrees - just turn on the aerator pumps, and let them run. Switch to recirculate mode when the boat is on plane. Run the aerator pumps continuously if you have more than 5 pounds of bass in the well. No, it won't drain your cranking battery. If it does, you needed a new one anyway.

When the water warms above 75 degrees, there are three simple things anglers need to do to keep survival high.

 

No. 1: control temperature

Fill the livewell first thing in the morning when the water is cool, switch to recirculate mode and add ice.

If the morning surface water temperature is 75-80 degrees, your livewell temperature should be 75 degrees; if the morning surface water temperature is 81-85 degrees, your livewell temperature should be 78 degrees; if the morning surface water temperature is greater than 85 degrees, your livewell temperature should be 80 degrees.

The best way to cool the livewell water is to add frozen half-gallon plastic bottles. The block of ice melts slowly, and will keep the water temperature stable for a couple hours. Ten to 12 jugs are enough to control livewell temperature throughout a tournament during the hottest conditions you will face in Mississippi if your livewell is insulated. Do not cool the water below the suggested temperature.

Is there chlorine in the ice? Probably, but it won't mix with the livewell water if you leave the cap on the jug.

The cooler in your top-end bass boat won't hold 12 half-gallon milk jugs? Mine won't either. Empty one of your aft dry storage compartments, and use it as a cooler. You'll have plenty of ice to keep your bass healthy, and can carry extra cold drinks to keep you happy. And hey, how much tackle do you need in the summer - a Carolina rig and a few deep-diving crankbaits gets it done.

 

No. 2: provide plenty of oxygen

There are several add-on aeration devices on the market, but pumped-water aeration systems that are standard equipment in modern bass boats are adequate for catches up to 20 pounds if you run the aerators (recirculation pumps) continuously and you cool the water.

It is not possible to over-aerate livewell water with a pumped-water aeration system.

Fact is, livewell water temperature of 92-93 degrees won't kill bass, but low dissolved oxygen will. When the dissolved oxygen gets very low, probably below 1 ppm, you weigh in dead fish. But even brief exposure to low oxygen will reduce post-release survival. These fish are recovering from stress and oxygen debt from capture, and need all the oxygen they can get.

The main reason to cool the water is to provide adequate oxygen. Cooler water holds more oxygen, so your aeration system is more efficient. Plus, bass in cooler water need less oxygen and consume less oxygen. Bottom line: Cooling the water and continuous operation of the recirculation pumps are the best ways to provide good oxygen.

In a study of 12 summertime bass tournaments throughout Mississippi, 7 percent of the bass weighed in by experienced tournament anglers who used their conventional livewell management procedures were judged dead at weigh in. Only 3.5 percent of the bass weighed in by anglers in the same tournaments who volunteered to use ice to follow the above livewell temperature recommendations were judged dead at weigh in.

Furthermore, the bass from the temperature-controlled livewells had a heavy slime coat, but the bass from the warm livewells felt dry and rough. The weighmaster could tell which anglers used ice because their fish were more active and harder to weigh.

 

No. 3: provide fresh water every three hours

Bass excrete ammonia. If you have more than 5 pounds of bass in the livewell, ammonia can increase to toxic levels before weigh in. To avoid toxic ammonia, give the fish fresh water. Pump out and refill or flush the livewell, turn the livewell back to recirculate mode, and add ice to bring the temperature to the desired range.

Most bass anglers will agree that catch and release means more and bigger bass to catch in the future. But catch and release only works if the bass survive to grow, reproduce and, hopefully, be caught again.

Regardless of the season, conservation-minded anglers should land fish quickly, protect the bass's slime coat by handling the fish with wet hands and not letting them flop on the carpet, hold bass vertically while quickly removing hooks and minimize exposure to air.