UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Toledo Bend Lake

The Importance of Fish Care While Culling

The Importance of Fish Care While Culling
Matt Stefan unloading the well.

(The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.)


Fish care is important for all anglers, but particularly for tournament anglers, because it can easily change the outcome of a tournament if not taken seriously. In our sport ounces count, and poor fish handling can lead to dead fish and lost dollars.

As tournament anglers, we tend to handle fish the most when culling, and here lately I’ve seen anglers at all levels do some things while culling that don’t make sense to me.

I recently watched a high-level tournament in which an angler boated a giant bass, and the first thing he did was put a cull buoy in the fish. I’ve not seen scientific proof that says a hole in the fish’s mouth will cause death, but I can tell you from personal experience that cull buoys can increase the stress level on a fish while in the livewell and that they could lead to death. The buoyancy of the cull buoy puts pressure on the lower jaw of the mouth, which makes it harder for the fish to breathe through its gills. Also, cull buoys can get tangled and ultimately suffocate a bass if the situation is not caught soon enough.

I also routinely see anglers pull all of their fish out of the livewell and lay them on the floor of the boat to determine which fish are bigger. In my opinion there is never a need to do this. The point of cull buoys is to allow you to easily and quickly identify your smallest fish to avoid needing to pull all the fish out of the livewell. I’m not sure why anyone would do this, but I can tell you it puts a lot of additional stress on fish and can remove their protective slime coating, which may not lead to immediate death, but can definitely increase the potential for that fish to become susceptible to a virus that can cause delayed mortality and negatively affect a fishery’s population.

Everyone has an approach to culling, and there are lots of different cull systems for an angler to utilize. My approach is not necessarily the fastest way, but it’s what works best for me and applies minimal stress to the fish. I use the T-H Marine G-Force Conservation Cull Buoys. These buoys clip onto the jaw of the fish rather than puncturing the fish’s mouth. I choose not to put cull buoys onto my fish until I have caught my sixth fish. I do this because cull buoys can get tangled and suffocate one or more bass. This has happened to me, and I paid dearly. After I catch my sixth keeper I put cull buoys on just the smallest fish. For example, if I have two 4-pound bass and four more that are roughly 2 pounds each, I will put buoys on just those four and then weigh only those four since the other two are obviously bigger. After weighing each of the four bass I put buoys on, I record the weights on the Accu-Cull Culling System, which allows me to easily compare weights to see which is my smallest fish. If I have two fish that are about equal I can determine which is bigger with a quick use of the balance beam. Then I can return the smallest one to the lake.

I know one argument against doing it this way is that it takes more time to cull if you have to track down the fish in the livewell. Yes, this is true. It would be faster to put a cull buoy in the fish immediately after catching them. But I’d rather take a couple extra minutes after securing a limit than put additional stress on the fish, and there are usually only a few fish in the livewell that need a cull buoy anyway.

The penalty at the professional level for a dead fish is 4 ounces, which can lead to a loss of thousands of dollars and angler-of-the-year points that can prevent you from making the championship. Additionally, many tournaments do not allow you to cull a dead fish, which might affect an angler’s total weight by a lot more than the dead fish penalty itself. For these reasons, I take fish care seriously and do everything I can to keep them alive to be caught another day. 

Tags: matt-stefan  blog 

Vlog: Rayburn Recap, Practice to Pattern

Vlog: Rayburn Recap, Practice to Pattern

Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro Josh Douglas and his wife, Bri, created this baller recap video from Sam Rayburn and the first Pro Circuit event of 2020. In the video, which includes footage from practice and the tournament, Josh dishes on how he used his practice time to eventually uncover a productive trap pattern that helped him earn a 42nd-place finish, which is a big improvement on the 114th he posted at Rayburn in the 2019 FLW Tour event. READ MORE »

Why You Shouldn’t Second-Guess Your Gut

Why You Shouldn’t Second-Guess Your Gut

In tournament fishing, you can beat yourself up for days with the “what if” scenarios that cause you to second-guess your gut. Well, in this case, I guessed wrong. I finished the Lake Champlain event in 145th place. It knocked me all the way down to 60th in points and out of Cup contention. READ MORE »

More Fishing, More Focus in 2020

More Fishing, More Focus in 2020

People talk a lot about the offseason in professional bass fishing, but when you do this for a living you pretty quickly realize there really isn’t much of an offseason anymore. READ MORE »

New Challenges, New Opportunities

New Challenges, New Opportunities

Now with 2019 in the rear-view mirror, 2020 is in the crosshairs, and I look forward to the challenges ahead. With the rebranding of the Tour to the new FLW Pro Circuit, there are some great new opportunities that both fans and competitors will benefit from. READ MORE »

Why I Chose FLW

Why I Chose FLW

My name is Richard Dunham, but most people know me as Dicky D. I currently live in Palm Harbor Florida where I work for the Folsom Corporation, one of the largest fishing distributors in the country. In 2020 I am fishing as a boater in Southern Division of the FLW Series. READ MORE »

Prepping for the 2020 Fishing Season

Prepping for the 2020 Fishing Season

This is one of my favorite times of the year, the (not so) calm before the storm before the tournament season kicks off down south in January. READ MORE »

I’m Signed up and Ready to Go

I’m Signed up and Ready to Go

Following a great season in 2019, I just signed up for the FLW Pro Circuit for 2020. Foremost, I’m excited about the opportunities that are being provided by MLF and FLW. I see overall growth in the platform as we strive to be a bigger and better industry. READ MORE »

FLW Foundation Volunteers Have a Big Impact on Youth

FLW Foundation Volunteers Have a Big Impact on Youth

For the past several years, the FLW Foundation has been working diligently on a mission to introduce young people to their local natural resources. One strategy employed by the Foundation is to host free youth fishing derbies across the country. READ MORE »

4 Easy Ways to Store Soft Plastics

4 Easy Ways to Store Soft Plastics

One of the easiest and most controllable ways to save time and be efficient on the water is to keep tackle organized and accessible. Hard baits are easy to organize in Plano boxes, but soft plastics can sometimes cause a bit of a headache. Here are some tips for doing it based on how I go about tackling the issue.  READ MORE »

How to Land More Bass

How to Land More Bass

My technique for fighting a bass depends significantly on the equipment – my Dobyns rod, Ardent reel, Seaguar line and Cornerstone Baits – that I’m using at the time. READ MORE »

God, Grace, Grit

God, Grace, Grit

Life isn’t always easy, and we all find ourselves in situations that seem impossible to overcome. But with God, grace and grit we have not only persevered, we have risen. And we are continuing to rise together, and can commit to uplifting one another along the way. No matter what you are going through on or off the water, know that with God, grace and grit, but most of all God, anything is possible. READ MORE »

How to Prepare for Big Water 

How to Prepare for Big Water 

As many of you know, fishing big water for giant smallmouths is my favorite type of fishing. Competing on the Great Lakes, 1000 Islands, St. Clair, Champlain and other big Northern fisheries is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it gets rough, which is why it’s critical that you have the correct equipment and understand how to use it. READ MORE »

How to be a Pro Angler 

How to be a Pro Angler 

I get a lot of questions from young and old anglers alike about the steps to becoming a pro. I guess maybe sometimes I take it for granted. The process seems somewhat obvious to me. How to execute on it might not be simple, but the steps you need to take really are. There are only a couple of ways to get into this sport, and they all start at the grassroots level, in $200 and $300 tournaments.  READ MORE »

Introducing Myself

Introducing Myself

I want to start off by telling you a little bit about myself. I grew up in Pennsylvania about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia. I grew up fishing for whatever would bite with my grandfather and in middle school I had a friend who started taking me with his dad down to the Chesapeake Bay. That was my first time ever on a bass boat, and I was immediately hooked! READ MORE »

Riding the Roller Coaster

Riding the Roller Coaster

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, although it seems like the last one was just yesterday. This season has flown by, and I finally have some down time before the last stop on the FLW Tour at Lake Champlain. This Tour season has been full of ups and downs, and I’ve learned a lot. READ MORE »

The History of the Drop-Shot

The History of the Drop-Shot

FLW Tour pro James Niggemeyer recalls his first introduction to the drop-shot, as well as what came before it and how he developed his tackle to have better success with this capable finesse bass bait. READ MORE »

From Dead Last to Making Money

From Dead Last to Making Money

If you were hanging out with me at the FLW Tour event on Seminole recently, you would have thought I won the tournament. I was congratulated by every pro I saw, and they were being genuine. READ MORE »

Fishing the Worst Conditions

Fishing the Worst Conditions

Watching giant bags of bass caught down in Texas and Florida on FLW Live during FLW Tour events has many anglers dying to get on the water. The only problem is that a lot of people are still facing some of the toughest conditions for catching a bass – cold, muddy, moving water.   READ MORE »

How to Deal with Dock Talk

How to Deal with Dock Talk

If you fish tournaments or follow tournament fishing, you know about dock talk. It’s the chatter that goes on among bass fishermen during and around tournaments on subjects such as how the fish are biting, what patterns are in play, the weather and just how much of a grind it’s been. Dock talk can be dangerous. It can lead you astray if you listen to the wrong person. It can hurt your confidence if you hear about someone else really catching ’em doing something different. It can distract you from your game plan and your goals. Dock talk rarely gives you the complete story. READ MORE »

Moving into My New Office

Moving into My New Office

The new year to many professional fishermen also means a new boat. Some people like the smell of a new car — who doesn’t, really? But the smell of new fiberglass is better than that. It’s better than the smell of warm apple pie to me. READ MORE »