Keeping Heat-Stressed Bass Alive In Summertime Tournaments

By Haley Lynch, courtesy of Kentucky Afield Magazine

Bass tournaments are an exciting and popular activity on Kentucky's lakes. However, tournaments held during the heat of summer place a great deal of stress on fish.

Photo of bass in a livewell

In The Livewell

"We don't promote summertime tournaments because of the potential for increases in mortality of fish," said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources' fisheries division. "We recommend that tournaments not be held when water temperatures are over 80 degrees."

Higher temperatures mean less oxygen in the water and more stress to fish held in a boat's livewell. If anglers don't take measures to cool the water, maximize aeration, maintain a healthy salt balance and flush ammonia from the livewell, fish can die either during the tournament or after they are released.

"If anglers cannot move their tournaments to cooler time periods, they need to learn the best techniques for taking care of fish in warm water," said Buynak. "If you are going to have a summertime tournament, maintain aeration and use ice and salt in the livewell."

Anglers should first fill their livewells in the morning when the lake water is cooler. Switch the livewell to recirculate so it is not taking on warm lake water, and keep it running continually throughout the tournament day. Add two 1/2-gallon frozen bottles of water to the livewell and about 1/3 cup of untreated salt for every 5 gallons of livewell water.

"After about a three-hour period in the livewell, the ice will be melted, bass waste will be building up and you could have an ammonia problem," said Buynak. "The recommendation is to change half the water in the livewell after three hours, then add ice and salt again."

At Weigh-In

Taking care of fish in the livewell is only one part of keeping bass alive during summer tournaments.

"You've got to have the full range of resources to keep them alive," said Dave Dreves, fisheries research biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. "Proper set-up at the weigh-in is also very important."

Tournament organizers can reduce stress on fish by lowering the creel limit, staggering weigh-in times and keeping weigh-in lines short and efficient. Summer tournaments can be held at night or shortened to four hours to reduce stress on fish. For full eight-hour tournaments, a weigh-in and release can be held halfway through the day to shorten the amount of time fish spend in the livewell.

"The big thing is, the less time in the boat, the better," said Buynak. "At the weigh-in, have an iced, aerated trough for fish. The water should be salted and cooled 5 to 10 degrees below the lake temperature. When releasing fish, take them out further from the bank where there is deeper, cooler water."

Fish survival is not only good for the resource, but it puts a positive face on the tournament fishing sport. Tournaments can encourage good fish handling even more by penalizing anglers whose fish die.

"A lot of tournaments have penalties for bringing in dead fish," said Dreves. "That's one reason anglers want to keep their fish alive. But the reason these rules were instituted was to promote good care of the fish during their time in the livewell."

Buynak recommends anglers and tournament organizers review the B.A.S.S. sponsored manual "Keeping Bass Alive," which outlines in complete detail the best methods for handling bass during tournaments.

Basic guidelines and information on how to get a copy of the manual are available at

Author Hayley Lynch is an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She is an avid hunter and shotgun shooter.