Hot summer fishing is definitely a difficult craft to master. While it is tough at times it can still be very productive if you keep an open mind and understand what the fish are wanting to do. If you do have success on a hot summer day in a tournament there is nothing worse then having your fish die because they weren't properly taken care of.
I understand that some times fish die and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, but I am also willing to say that around 75% of fish care issues are avoidable. The key is taking the right measures to protecting your fish and here is how I do that.
ICE: Properly using ice to cool down your water is absolutely essential. When fishing on a hot summer day water temperatures can easily climb into the low 90s, put that 90 degree water in a livewell under direct sunlight and you have a recipe for disaster. Another main reason why ice is so important is because in the summer months fish often live in deep water where the temperatures could already be 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the surface temperatures. Trust me ice is a must in summer tournaments and here is how to properly use it. As soon as I catch a fish I begin to introduce ice into my livewells. Typically I use normal cubes of ice but one of the best ways to keep fish cool throughout the day is by using frozen gallon milk jugs. No matter how you do it you don't want to over do it! I believe it is very difficult to get your water to cold but the key is introducing the ice slowly utilizing close to half a bag or one milk jug every 1.5 hours. Introduce ice properly and you will greatly increase your chances of not having a dead fish penalty when you get to weigh-in!
CHEMICALS: Today in the fishing world there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to chemicals that are designed to relax and protect your catch. These chemicals absolutely work and they are something that when put together with iced down water increase your chances of not having a dead fish even more. Here are the products you have to choose from. Bass Medics Rejuvenade, Fish Life Livewell Treatement, Sure-Life Catch & Release, and T-H Marine G-Juice. There are other options out there and they all work, just make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle while using any of the ones I mentioned.
FIZZING: The one thing that can throw your entire fish care approach out of alignment is an issue that is well known but not always well practiced. The act of fizzing a fish consists of inserting a hypodermic needle into the swim bladder of a fish in order to release the air that is trapped. This is so important because when a fish has a bloated swim bladder it is unable to right itself, it is easy to tell when a fish needs this treatment because it will be on it's side or upside down in your livewell. What causes this issue is when a fish comes out of relatively deep water typically 15 feet or deeper to quickly it will cause the swim bladder to inflate. This can absolutely kill a fish if it is not taken care of properly. Make sure you do your research and know exactly how to fizz a fish properly, and it will definitely take a little practice to master it. There is a debate on how to properly do it weather you should go through the side of the fish or down the throat, personally I go under a scale on the side but I am not saying that is the best or the only way, I just know it works for me. Once I've inserted the needle I keep the fish and the needle under water in order to see the bubbles releasing. One important tip is to not release to much air. As the air is bubbling out I like to let go of the fish, while I watch to see when the fish rights itself. Fizzing is must for keeping fish alive throughout the day as well as after weigh-in. A huge problem I see is fish being released after a tournament that where not fizzed. If the fish does survive the day in the livewell it surely won't survive being released before it is properly treated. Almost every summer tournament I fish I see fish floating around that are still alive. I like to take this issue into my own hands by personally fizzing fish after a tournament but this issue is definitely something that needs to be talking about in order to protect our resource.
Get out on the water this summer and follow the 3 steps I just wrote about and you will be able to enjoy the full wait of your catch all summer long which can be the difference between winning and a mediocre finish.
I'll see you on the water!!!