Bass is Ireland’s only marine fish species which is managed for recreational angling and this has been the case since the signing of the BASS (CONSERVATION OF STOCKS) ORDER, 1990, by the then Minister for the Marine, John P.Wilson following a major sustained decline in bass stocks in Irish waters. Inland Fisheries Ireland gathers data on bass which provides scientific advice to support the correct management and conservation approach for the species. To help collect this data, to determine the status of bass stocks and also to improve understanding of their ecology and biology, Inland Fisheries Ireland runs the National Bass Programme (NBP).

Under the NBP, anglers can volunteer to assist in the tagging of Irish bass with floy tags; should any of the tagged fish get caught again at a later date, the individually numbered floy tag provides a phone number for the captor to make contact and report their catch to our research team. Anglers can also take scale samples and fish measurements to feed into the data collection programme.

With this in mind, our staff received a phone call last week from an angler who had caught (and released) one of the bass previously tagged under the NBP back in 2018. This has happened on a number of occasions in the past, but never with a fish as impressive as this one. The original capture was in September of 2018 in Ballinskelligs Bay and this impressive fish was measured at 82cm. Local guide John Quinlan, whose client caught the bass, tagged the fish and set it on its way to fight another day, catch and release being common practice among bass anglers. Little did John know that this fish would be caught again just under two years later, once more Ballinskelligs Bay, but even more impressive in terms of condition and size, than the first time around.

The big bass from Ballinskelligs Bay

Nicolas Mahlke was the lucky angler who caught the bass the second time and he weighed it in on his Chinese bought scales at 13.5 jin in late August (we’ll let you readers figure out what this means in imperial or metric measurements!). This would have put the bass at 87cm based on a length to weight ratio, a really impressive bass by any standards. Nicolas released the fish once more to the tide so maybe we’ll see it again one day, who knows.

The floy tag used to contact IFI

Whether or not catch and release, or indeed fish tagging, can cause harm to fish is always a hotly debated topic, especially where large fish are involved. This recapture helps to prove that the experience of being caught, carefully handled, tagged and released will not harm the fish when it is done correctly, this bass being in super condition when Nicolas caught it in August.

It also helps to show how valuable these tagging programmes are; in this example the fish showed strong site fidelity being recaptured close to the original capture area. So what does this mean? Well, we already think that most bass will return to the same areas year after year, so stocks of bass can be very localised. To add to this, we also know that Irish bass are long lived and slow to mature (i.e. slow to reproduce), so where stocks have been overfished in these areas it can do lasting damage, taking many, many years for stocks to recover.

What else have we learned? Well, we’ve learned that bass learn! Call it food for thought (or maybe something fishy!), but from an angling perspective, according to our expert angler sources, you won’t catch a bass on the same style of lure or bait twice…

Better go buy some more…