Longer bass season might be on the way
Written by Tom Greenberg   
Friday, 14 May 2004 05:30
May 6, 2004


?Michigan's bass season would be extended under regulations proposed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

?Catch-and-release fishing, now limited to six inland lakes for about a month in the spring, would be allowed statewide in the spring and possibly the winter.

?Bass fishing now is closed from Jan. 1 until the Saturday preceding Memorial Day in most of the state. On Lake St. Clair and the Detroit and St. Clair rivers, the season doesn't start until the third Saturday in June.

?The DNR's Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass Regulations Committee considered seven proposals for the season, said Gary Towns, a DNR fisheries supervisor and committee co-chair. Three will be offered for public review in the next year.

?One of the three proposals would make no changes in the bass season. The others would offer increased fishing through catch-and-release in the spring, and one would even allow ice fishing for bass.

?One proposal would:

?Close the season statewide from Jan. 1 until the last Saturday in April.

?Allow catch-and-immediate-release fishing from then until the third Saturday in June in the Lower Peninsula, and from May 15 until the third Saturday in June in the Upper Peninsula.

?Allow catch-and-keep fishing from the third Saturday in June until Dec. 31 statewide.

?The third proposal is the one favored by the regulations committee. It would:

?Allow catch-and-immediate release from Jan. 1 through March 15 statewide.

?Close the season from March 16 until the last Saturday in April in the Lower Peninsula, and from March 16 until May 15 in the UP.

?Reopen catch-and-immediate-release until the third Saturday in June statewide.

?Open catch-and-keep from the third Saturday in June until Dec. 31 statewide.

?Though the committee's recommendation would extend the season, it has upset tournament anglers because they would lose three weekends of competitive fishing.

?Instead of starting tournaments Memorial Day weekend, they would have to wait until the third Saturday in June.

?Ron Spitler, Michigan conservation director for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, said the DNR is being far too conservative. Spitler, a former DNR fisheries biologist, said studies from around the country show that seasonal angling pressure is one of the least important factors in bass management.

?Part of the dispute over the bass season comes from angling on Lake St. Clair. Bass fishing now is illegal on Lake St. Clair until late June, but it has become one of the top smallmouth lakes in the country, a place where anglers often can catch 50 or more bass a day.

?Catch-and-release fishing did not become a problem until many anglers began practicing it illegally on Lake St. Clair as early as April.

?Enforcing the closed season there was almost impossible because fishing was open for northern pike and walleye, which take the same lures as bass.

?Towns said fisheries biologists began to worry when they saw numbers of dead bass floating on the lake after each weekend. The fish apparently died of stress after they were released by anglers.

?In tournament fishing, bass are kept for hours in live wells and tubs before being weighed and released. Towns said that results in a major increase in dead fish. His committee's proposals would require fishermen to immediately release bass during legal catch-and-release periods.

?Starting in the 1980s, the DNR did a study of six inland lakes where early catch-and-release bass fishing was allowed.

?Gerry Gostenik, a former fisheries biologist and now a professional bass tournament angler and Great Lakes guide, said the study showed that early-season catch-and-release didn't harm bass numbers or sizes.

?"I fish those lakes every spring, and I can tell you it hasn't hurt them," Gostenik said. "There are only a handful of people out there to start with, and at that time of year, they are all dedicated bass anglers who don't kill bass."

?Towns said the six-lake study was flawed because it was poorly designed and could not show what might happen in lakes that were not impoundments on big rivers. In addition, he said, the study was never completed because the DNR biologists involved were often pulled off for other projects.

?Spitler replied that the DNR rejected that study and valuable information from other states because it did not support what the agency wanted to hear.

?In a statement to the DNR, Spitler said: "From a known science standpoint, the best regulation on bass in Michigan is the 14-inch size limit. A creel limit of five fish (in combination with pike and walleye) is inconsequential since anglers have evolved to a catch-and-release ethic over the past 20 years.

?"Michigan is only one of four states with a season in the USA. Closed seasons may be the least effective of all management tools. What happens throughout the USA in the majority of states that have year-round seasons for bass? Bass fishing remains popular and populations are stable, despite the harvest of many bass at spawning time."
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