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AOTY black bass submissions

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Now that I’m part of the AOTY committee, I feel compelled to speak up on this issue because the AOTY entries reflect the integrity of the AOTY competition as a whole and I want the competition to be reflected in a positive light for those looking in.  In addition, bringing this issue up now should help to resolve two concerns: 1) the proper handling and care of fish caught and released, and 2) to eliminate the potential for controversy among competitors.

The issue at hand has to do with proper catch and release of black bass.  Black bass (and their sunfish relatives) feed differently than many other families of fish.  We all know that bass and sunfish have very small teeth that hardly look conducive to holding onto prey items.  While trout and catfish will often “grab” prey and have teeth that help to keep the prey in their mouth, black bass will use a “suction” action with their mouths to inhale prey.  The mouth will behave like a vacuum, sucking in their prey.  That’s what you feel when you feel that “tick” in the line when a bass bites a bait or plastic worm.  Therefore, the mouth parts of a bass need to be fully functional to maximize feeding efficiency.  If the “vacuum” effect of the mouth is lost, the fish has a much more difficult time feeding.  For a visual representation of this behavior, search “largemouth bass feeding” on YouTube.

When we lip a bass or manipulate their jaws, there is a risk of severely damaging cartilage in their jaws.  Over the past couple years, there have been some AOTY entries that have anglers pinching or manipulating bass’ mouths in order to meet the “closed mouth” rule.  I’ll be perfectly honest: when I see fingers jammed into a bass’ lips to clamp them shut, I look at that as a bass that may suffer a slow, agonizing death through starvation.  Is it a 100% death sentence?  No, because fish have a knack for coping with defects and getting along.  But if damage occurs, then that bass is going to have a much tougher time surviving.

“It’s my fish and I can do what I want with it.” This is true.  But when you submit that fish to AOTY, that photo reflects AOTY in the eyes of anyone looking in.  The NCKA community takes pride in recognizing proper CnR technique with all sorts of fish, and is often quick to address instances where CnR was not practiced properly.  This post is my attempt at nipping this issue in the bud before it potentially catches on with other anglers who may think “well if that person can do it, then I can do it too.”

“The fish wouldn’t close his mouth so I had to pinch it closed.” Sometimes a bass will come up “stiff” with mouth agape and body stiff as a board.  If I have a bass do that and I want to get an AOTY measurement on it, I’ll place the bass in my net in the water and wait.  Usually it’ll take less than 30 seconds for the fish to relax.  Then I place him on the board, push his mouth up against the end of the board, take the photo, and release.  The fish won’t stay “stiff” forever.  Just give it time and it’ll relax.

“The fish won’t relax and there’s no way I can get this AOTY photo without pinching its lips shut.” If this is the case, then please consider this: that fish you’re submitting is reflecting on EVERYONE who participates or is associated with AOTY.  It paints us in a poor light in the eyes of other anglers and gives the impression that we don’t know about proper CnR.  Not to mention, the fish will most likely be rejected by the Committee.

Here’s an example of how to get a proper measurement on a bass.  Just push the fish’s mouth up against the board.  The majority of AOTY submissions of black bass utilize this technique.

With all of that being said, I ask that folks submitting AOTY photos of black bass PLEASE refrain from pinching the fish’s mouth shut with your fingers.  We will be enforcing the “no pulling/stretching of the lips” rule from here on out.  This isn’t a “new” rule (see AOTY Rule #2), but it wasn’t fully enforced in years past.  Here are a couple examples of entries that would be disqualified.

We want AOTY to look good in the eyes of other anglers who may be interested in participating, and sponsors who may be interested in prize donations.  If we can do the best we can in showing we are not only anglers, but also conservationists who take pride in looking out for our NorCal fisheries resources and preserving big bass for future anglers to enjoy, then we can only reap benefits going into the future.

Thanks for reading.

Ok now the text makes more sense, I had not seen this post yet!  Ill be the first to admit Im a pincher... I never even thought about it as adding length to a fish, I was just one that didn't want to get fish rejected for open mouth, & pinching it closed leaves no doubt... But I did not know that this had such a negative effect on the fish, us hooking and dragging them out of water and taking pics is hard enough on them, may as well not add to damage. Good info and thanks for sharing! I will keep my pinchers away from the fish from here on out!!!!

Oh and there are lots of examples out there showing non-pinched, well measured fish.....and you chose the one that appears to be a dead fish on a tailgate  :smt003 But I get the idea and Im sure others do too! Thanks!

Fish 'n Brew:
Thanks for the great read Chris.  I'm not a Bass fisherman, but gaining more knowledge about our sport is a good thing for everyone. 


One F:
This info will be VERY handy in the future because I know I have pinched in the past and subsequently had the photos DQ'd.  Thanks Clayman!

Thank you for the helpful info Chris!  I never knew pinching their lips was an issue until now.  Live and learn...


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