Bass are some of the heartier freshwater fish. They can survive for 10 to 15 minutes out of the water. But bass enter shock and may never fully recover if kept out that long. Do your best to limit the time out of the water to no more than one or two minutes.
The majority of bass anglers practice catch-and-release. We land a fish, pick it up, snap pictures, and return it to the water. This short amount of exposure to air isn’t going to kill a bass, but the longer they spend out of the water, the more dangerous it becomes.
Bass Exposure to Fresh Air
Whether you’ve boat flipped a bass, and it’s flopping around on your boat, or you pull it out of the net, bass go through a series of physical changes while they’re out of the water. Like humans can drown underwater, bass suffocate if exposed to open air for too long.
As soon as bucketmouths leave the water, their gills begin working extra hard. If they don’t get back into the water within a few minutes, their respiratory systems start to fail. As soon as their gills collapse, the bass die.
Bass get their oxygen from the water. The water passes through their gills, and dissolved oxygen is absorbed. Bass have many blood vessels that help extract the necessary oxygen. After they absorb the oxygen, carbon dioxide is released into the water.
When bass spend too much time out of the water, they lose the ability to extract oxygen. Their bodies cannot extract oxygen from the air like humans.
Keeping Bass Out of the Water
If you choose to keep bass for eating, keep them in a livewell or dispose of them as soon as you catch them. Leaving them in a bucket or alive in a cooler will spoil the meat and cause them to suffocate.
I occasionally keep bass, and when I don’t have access to a livewell, I’ll bring a knife and stab it in the head to ensure it dies quickly. This process is fast and causes the fish little pain. Letting them suffocate ruins delicious filets because blood vessels burst, potentially spoiling the meat.
Catch and Release Safety
Many of us fish bass for sport, so we only need to keep bass out of the water for a short time. The following tips will help you keep fish safe while still enjoying the catch and release process.
Keep Bass in the Net
When you catch a bass, keep it in the net in the water for as long as possible. You can remove the hook and then grab the fish for a picture. Keeping it on the boat or in your hands begins the suffocation process.
Pop out the hook, grab the bass, snap your picture, and return it to the water. The bass shouldn’t be in the open air for more than 30 seconds to a minute.
Have Your Livewell Filled
If you plan on keeping bass for the sake of weigh-ins or holding, fill your livewell as you get set up in a spot. Waiting a few minutes while your livewell fills is precious time bass need for survival.
Also, remember to recycle your livewell water when you have the chance. Fresh water means fresh oxygen for the fish. The livewell fills with water that’s the temperature of the lake, so they’ll be comfortable.
Nurse the Fish
As anglers, there are always times when we keep the fish out of the water for too long. Whether it’s a trophy fish and we want several pictures, or the hook removal process takes too long, things happen.
If you expose the fish to open air for too long, don’t toss it back in the water and expect it to swim away unphased. You may have to nurse the fish to revive it. Hold the fish by the belly and place it in the water to best nurse it.
If the fish is ready, it’ll swim off your hand. If it’s not, it’ll stay in your hand. If it stays, slowly move your hand back and forth to get more water passing through its gills. You’re emulating the swimming motion, which allows the fish to recover faster.
Some anglers choose to hold fish by the tail during the nursing process. Either way works. When the fish is ready to go, it’ll push and dart back into hiding. The nursing process is sometimes necessary to save the life of a fish.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Bass Survive After Being Caught?
Most bass survive after being caught. As long as they’re not out of the water for more than a few minutes, they’ll fully recover.
Depending on the challenge of the fight and various other factors, bass can die once caught. They’re hearty fish able to withstand challenging conditions, so don’t expect them to die every time you catch one.
Bass don’t rely on their toughness to survive. Largemouth are lone rangers. They’re used to doing everything for themselves, which makes them strong.
A minute or two of exposure to air isn’t going to kill a bass. But as bass anglers, we are responsible for keeping fish healthy, so let’s do our best to keep fish in the water as long as possible.