By Brad Wiegmann

Most of us are smart enough to wear sunscreen to protect us from the dangers of sunburn and bug spray to prevent mosquito bites, but fish aren’t known for slathering on lotion. They’ve got a built-in protective slime coat that acts as a barrier to disease and infection, but rough handling can damage this shield and cause delayed mortality.

"If a fish is going to survive after being caught it all depends on the actions of the angler. It doesn't matter if they are in a boat or fishing from shore. Every effort needs to be made to avoid any possible removal of the fish's mucus coat," said B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland.

Every time a fish is handled some of the protective slime coat is removed. To avoid undue damage, don’t let the fish flop around on the deck of a boat and hold it without touching the fish’s body. The right net also makes a difference. Use one with a rubber coating instead of rough nylon.

All fish have some type of slime coat. Fish rely on the slime coat to provide a healthy internal and external balance. It provides external protection shielding off parasites in addition to being a bandage covering most wounds caused by infection or trauma.

This is enough to be concerned about protecting a fish’s slime coat, but did you know that in addition to health benefits, the slime coat also reduces turbulence and allows the fish to swim faster? This mucus coating fills in the gaps between body parts and scales, resulting in less energy expended when in motion.

"It's the first defense for fish. Their survival depends upon it," said Gilliland.