As our Central Texas reservoirs reach their annual peak temperatures, anglers often probe water deeper than 15-20 feet to find fish. Any time fish are caught from deep water, barotrauma is a possibility. The extra stress that summer heat puts on fish retained in a live well can amplify the negative impacts of barotrauma.
Barotrauma is caused when fish are reeled up from the depths and the sac of air in their abdomen, known as the swim bladder, expands due to the decreased pressure at the lake’s surface versus the higher pressure the fish experienced at the depth it was holding at prior to capture.
Recently, an effective, easy to use and inexpensive tool was introduced to anglers to help guard against and/or reverse the negative impacts of barotrauma. This tool is called the Flip Clip.
I was introduced to the Flip Clip this week by local bass tournament angler Jim Hester who routinely uses the device to keep his bass taken from deep water alive for weigh-in and release.
The Flip Clip consists of a 1.4-ounce, compact lead weight with a spring-loaded alligator clip built into it.
As soon as a fish taken from deep water which is going to be retained in the live well is landed, at least one Flip Clip is attached to the anal fin (the fin on the fish’s belly, closest to its tail). The weight of the Flip Clip overcomes the buoyancy of the gas in the fish’s swim bladder and causes the fish to remain upright and at the bottom of the live well.
If more weight is needed because the fish continues to float, additional Flip Clips may be placed onto the pelvic fins (on the belly of the fish, closest to the head).
Once the fish calms down in the darkness of the live well and remains upright, its circulatory system is able to slowly deal with the excessive gas in its swim bladder.
Without attaching such a weight, fish typically float at the top of the live well on one of their sides and constantly struggle to right themselves, all the way to the point of exhaustion. Additionally, with one side out of the water, only one of the two gills is working effectively at a time when the fish needs to breathe in an unhindered manner.
I spoke with the Flip Clip developer, Jim Kramer, of Pennsylvania by phone. Kramer first got the idea for the Flip Clip while fishing a tournament in Ohio. He landed a large smallmouth bass from out of deep water. When he placed the fish in his live well, it immediately rolled on its side and floated.
Kramer used a culling tag and a collection of dropshot rig weights to make a do-it-yourself weighted keel for the fish, and the fish survived.
After much polishing and consultation with others in the fishing industry, Kramer brought the Flip Clip to market and has since made some improvements — like a much stronger clip — based on angler feedback after the original version was introduced.
Intrigued by Hester’s experience and by Kramer’s product, I went to Tightlines Premium Fishing Tackle on Thursday evening this week and bought two three-packs of Flip Clips.
Although I am not a tournament fisherman, as a guide, I often get requests from my clients to take group photos with all participants holding fish they have landed. Often, in trying to honor this request, the first angler’s fish will experience barotrauma in the live well while the others in the party are working to catch their fish.
I experimented on July 14 with the Flip Clip to see if the proactive use of it would allow me to hold white bass in my live well for an extended period of time while still allowing for a successful release.
I was pleased with the results. While fishing with 15-year- old Nolanville resident Aaron Cherry, he hooked and landed a 14.125-inch white bass in 38 feet of water.
The fish immediately went on its side and floundered in the live well. I attached a Flip Clip to the anal fin, but the fish continued to float. I then attached two more clips, one to each pelvic fin. The fish then settled to the bottom and remained upright and nearly motionless for 40 minutes.
After taking a few photos, we released the fish and it swam downward under its own power never to resurface. This was infinitely more than the fish was able to do on its own immediately following capture.
Ethical tournament organizers now have a new tool in their toolkit to keep as many tournament-caught bass alive as possible, and one that is much less risky to use than traditional “fizzing” tools.