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HOOKED ON EAST TEXAS: A 'fizz story'

When fish suffer "barotrauma" fizzing might be needed to save them.

TYLER, Texas — It might be too late in the season but this Hooked On East Texas story might come in handy next summer. Or it could be useful if you plan on deep sea fishing later this fall or over the winter.

You might call this story a "fizz story" because we are are talking about a condition called barotrauma and the use of a fizz needle to help a struggling fish. 

Barotrauma can be a literally eye-popping condition fish get when they are reeled up too fast from deep water. 

Think about how a scuba diver gets decompression sickness or the bends when ascending from deep water too quickly. A diver must come up slowly so the tissues in the body have time to adjust. 

Barotrauma in fish is similar but happens when the fish's swim bladder or other organs or eyes, over-inflate. 

Let's take a look at how the swim bladder works. The swim bladder helps a fish move up and down in the water column. If the fish wants to be near the surface, the swim bladder inflates, if the fish wants to go deeper, the swim bladder contracts. 

You can tell barotrauma is causing stress because a fish released back into the water will either float on it’s side or swim upside down. 

The director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Sharelunker program, Natalie Godstrohm said it can be fatal. 

“The reason they’re having difficulty swimming is that their swim bladder’s gotten so large that when the bladder is over-inflated, you can actually have that swim bladder push up against those vital organs of the fish and it can lead to death," Godstrohm said. 

There are couple of ways to help a fish survive. One is called “fizzing." But before you try fizzing, fishing guide D-J Myers asks you to get properly educated before trying.

“You have to know how to fizz a fish so that you don’t kill it”, Myers cautioned. 

A recent study by Texas Parks and Wildlife shows side fizzing gives fish a 14% higher survival. 

You Tube videos show biologist inserting a small fizz needle into the fish, roughly a half inch behind the front fin. That is where, most commonly, the air bladder is located. The needle helps vents the air from the air bladder allowing the fish to swim back down to the depth from where it came. There are other tools including weighted clips. 

On a recent trip with fishing guide Michael Samples,  he described to us how you can use a weighted clip attached to a piece of fishing line. 

“Clip that weight on the fish’s mouth or fin or something that weights them down enough to pull that fish down to the bottom", Samples instructed. "And then you just pop that weight off, pop that clip and the fish is on the bottom, and it’ll survive.” 

How do you know if you need to fizz a fish? T-P-W-D’s Goldstrohm offers this tip.

"It really depends on the situation, so if you’re practicing catch, and immediate release, probably not fizzing is the way to go", Goldstrohm said. 

Fizzing fish is needed more often in very deep water such as the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. 

That's why in 2021 Congress passed the "Descend Act". The law required recreational, charter and commercial boats to have a venting tool or descending device on board that is rigged and ready to use while fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico federal waters.

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