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Snakeheads Growing Bigger, Spreading Farther Up the Potomac

Dan Moon caught this monster snakehead on a Booyah spinnerbait.

As state and federal resource managers revealed that the northern snakehead has spread into the Upper Potomac River, a local angler provided yet more evidence that these exotic predatory fish grow larger here than anywhere else in the world. That's a potential double whammy for bass and other native species.

"Part of the reason we should be worried about it is we don't really know what the impacts are going to be," said Joe Love, tidal bass program manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). "We do know that, in some cases, invasive species cost millions of dollars in damage to the ecosystem."

With the population of snakeheads in the tidal Potomac now an estimated 20,000, one concern  is that  aggressive snakeheads will outcompete bass for food, a fear that is heighted by the fact that they are growing to world-record proportions. In late June, Dan Moon boated the latest giant, which weighed 18.8 pounds on an uncertified scale.  The official world record checked in at 17-12, and was caught last year within two miles of where Moon caught his fish.

With both adult snakeheads and fry confirmed in the C&O canal above Great Falls, it seems almost certain that the invaders will spread up the non-tidal Potomac, as well as into its tributaries.

"Eradication is not possible once these fish become established in an open river system such as the Potomac," said MDNR biologist John Mullican. "We expect that these fish will eventually become a permanent part of the Upper Potomac fish community. Confronting snakeheads in the canal system is the best way to mitigate their emigration into the Upper Potomac.

Consequently, Maryland is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to develop control strategies.

MDNR emphasized that the snakehead can be caught legally in any season and at any size. "We'd like it to be harvested if anyone catches it," Love said. "We'd like it if they took it home and possibly ate it. Anglers and archers enjoy fishing for them, which is great. And they enjoy eating them, which is great."


Angler Drop-Out Rate Lower in Midwest, Northeast

Anglers in the Midwest and Northeast have a lower drop-out rate than anglers in the Southeast and West, according to a new report about recreational fishing.

This and other findings related to fishing participation are explained in "A Snapshot of the U.S. Angler Population by Region," the second in a series of studies produced for American Sportfishing Association (ASA) by Southwick Associates, which sheds new light on anglers’ fishing habits and loyalty to the sport. 

The study reveals that close to half of all fishing license buyers in any given year do not renew their licenses the following year.  But overall number of participants remains stable from year to year, at around 46 million, because about the same number of people both drop-in and drop-out of the sport from year to year.

“The new report underscores some of the challenges we already know about, but it also gives us more specific information to help pinpoint factors that keep people fishing, and that’s what we need going forward,” said ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman.  “What keeps anglers fishing in the Midwest and not in the Southeast is information we can use to improve our marketing efforts to anglers who tend to lapse more.” 

Using this information, state agencies and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation plan to use a strategy called “R3” for targeted marketing to recruit, retain, and reactivate anglers. The overall goal is to reduce the amount of “churn,” a term that refers to anglers’ transitioning in and out of the sport from year to year.

What’s new?
The analysis includes a closer look at sportfishing participation, churn rates among various demographic groups, and fishing license purchasing habits among recruited, retained, and reactivated anglers.  

While  some significant differences exist among regions, findings in each region  were consistent with what was found nationally:  women, young people, and those who live in urban communities are more likely to lapse in their fishing from year to year.

Report highlights

Participation is growing slightly in about one-third of the states.  Between 2004 and 2013, 17 states experienced growth in the number of licensed anglers while the rest showed reductions.  Most of the states showing growth are in the West and Southeast. 

The West attracts the most non-resident anglers. Nonresidents comprise as much as 29 percent (West) and as little as 19 percent (Midwest and Southeast) of the licensed angler population (it’s 20 percent in the Northeast). Regardless of region, roughly 70 percent of all licensed non-resident anglers will buy a license in the same state in just one out of five years, though they may buy in other states in these other years.

Anglers are more avid in the Northeast and Midwest. More than 20 percent of anglers purchased a license five out of five years in the Northeast and Midwest—compared to just 8 percent and 16 percent of anglers in the Southeast and West, respectively.

The annual churn rate is highest in the Southeast and lowest in the Midwest. In the Southeast, the average annual churn rate is highest, at 53 percent, while its lowest, 28 percent, in the Midwest, considerably less than the national rate of 46 percent.  The rate is 39 percent in the West and 33 percent in the Northeast.

Regardless of region, the churn rate is highest among younger anglers.  The average annual churn rate is highest, with a range of 37-63 percent across all four regions, among licensed anglers between the ages of 18 and 24.  Licensed anglers aged 55 to 64 years old have the lowest churn rate of all age groups, with a range of 22-46 percent across all four regions. Nationally, annual churn rates by age group fall within these regional ranges.  

Regardless of region, the churn rate is higher among women.  The average annual churn rate among women is highest in the Southeast, where 64 percent of female anglers lapse in their fishing license renewals from year to year.  It’s lowest among women in the Midwest, at 41 percent.  The rate is 48 percent in the Northeast and 50 percent in the West. Nationally, the rate is about 55 percent—about 13 percent higher than the churn rate for men. 

Regardless of region, urban anglers have a higher churn rate. The churn rate ranges from 34-60 percent for urban anglers across all four regions, from 30-55 percent for those residing in suburban communities, and from 24-46 percent for those in rural communities. The national churn rate in urban communities falls within this regional range; however, rural anglers’ churn rate ranges lower than the national rate in the Midwest, Northeast, and West.     

Southwick Associates compiled and studied fishing license data over a 10-year period, from 2004-2013, and a five-year period, from 2009-2013, from 12 states (CO, FL, GA, ME, MI, MN, MS, MT, NH, NY, UT, and WI) to provide a regionally and nationally representative portrait of anglers for this and future reports in the series.  Three states were selected from within each of the four geographic areas of the country—the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, and West—to provide regional representation. 


Millions of Kids Want You to Take Them Fishing

Most who fish started as children younger than 12. That's confirmed by a "2015 Special Report on Fishing" from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation that pegs the number at "more than 85 percent."

More often than not, a parent, grandparent, or some other relative took them, not once but regularly. They developed passion for the sport because it was fun, as well as a challenge. It was  a connection to a mysterious underwater world inhabited by wondrous creatures. But they also embraced it because they shared those experiences with loved ones and, over time,  wonderful memories accumulated.

Of course, there are exceptions, and I am one of them. No one in my family fished. But at age 8, I went with my Cub Scouts pack on outing to a farm pond. I didn't catch a fish, but I was hooked for life. Two years later, we moved to a subdivision near a small lake, and the first thing on my wish list that Christmas was a rod-and-reel set that I saw in a comic book ad. I can't help but wonder, though, if  I would have found my way to fishing if we had not made that move. And what about other kids on other Cubs Scouts trips who never had a second opportunity to wet a line?

On the other hand, I made it a point to take my nieces fishing when they were young, yet none of them have much interest in the sport today. Either we embrace the sport, or we don't, for a myriad of reasons. But the more opportunities that we provide for participation, the better the future of fishing will be for all of us. As the study suggests, starting when kids are young is the best strategy. But we're also finding other ways, including high school and college fishing programs, such as those sponsored by B.A.S.S., and how-to classes, such as the Discover Nature series offered by the Missouri Department of Conservation. These activities benefit not just children who grew up fishing with family but those like me, who hunger for mentors to fish with them and share their knowledge of the sport.

And I'm not just saying that. The report reveals that 4.3 million kids want to try fishing.

Trevor Lo, meanwhile, is someone who learned young from his father, but was hungry for more. "I started competitively fishing local tournaments around the age of 14. I got involved in a local tournament trail hosted by other Hmong fishermen."

Later, he joined the University of Minnesota bass fishing team "in hopes of learning more about fishing different parts of the country, as well as seeing how I could do against other fishermen around my age."

Laura Ann Foshee

And it's not just boys who want more opportunities to fish either. The study reveals that half of first-time anglers are female, which is not a surprise to Laura Ann Foshee or Allyson Marcel.

Foshee helped start the Gardendale Rockets Bass Fishing Club in Georgia after seeing a high school competition at Smith Lake. "We had 60 people to show up at our first information meeting and ended up with a team of 18 anglers," said the only female member of the Bassmaster High School All-America Fishing Team.

"I love the challenge and the rush I get when I hook into a bass," she said. "In fishing, you are constantly trying to figure out the ever-changing patterns of the fish and learn new lakes, seasons, and techniques."

Thanks to her father, Marcel started fishing as soon as she was old enough "to hold a pole," and she was a charter member of the Nicholls State University's bass fishing team in Louisiana.

"I just love being on the water," she said. "There's no place I would rather be.

"Usually I fish with my Dad, brother, or boyfriend so not only am I doing something I love, but I'm doing it with someone I love."

And what do young anglers say is the best way to grow the sport?

"I would encourage parents to take their children fishing, as well as educate them in regards to wildlife and the outdoors," said Lo, who also urged students to join fishing clubs.

Foshee added, "When it comes to girls getting into fishing, I think the biggest obstacle isn't physical strength . . . but a perception that fishing is a boys sport . . . I can't tell you how much of an inspiration it is to see female anglers like Trait Crist catching the big bass in the Open and Allyson Marcel win the College National Championship. My dream is to be the first to win the Bassmaster Classic!"

(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Better Bass Fishing Provides a Look at the 'Big Picture' of Bass Fishing

In addition to how-to information, it reveals secrets for becoming a better bass angler through scientific knowledge on bass biology and the effects of weather, as well as helpful logistical instruction on equipment and techniques. Better Bass Fishing encourages a thoughtful approach to fishing and the realization that success is tied to more than just using the right bait.


Senior Writer Robert Montgomery credits the opportunities and experiences provided him by BASS for much of the angling expertise that he shares with readers in his new book, Better Bass Fishing --- Secrets from the Headwaters. “I’ve learned from the best,” he says of his 25 years as a senior writer for Bassmaster magazine.

In addition to revealing information provided him by the pros and some of the country’s best guides, Montgomery also offers tips and insights from some of BASS’s own, including founder Ray Scott.

Scott details the power of provocation for angling success, while Dave Precht, editor-in-chief of Bassmaster, reveals the importance of determining the proper retrieve.

In the Biology and Behavior chapter, Montgomery says that Bassmaster and BASS Times “provide the most up-to-date information on bass biology and behavior, as well as new strategies for catching them (bass).” He adds that many of today’s young pros say that they grew up reading Bassmaster, “and the knowledge they gained from the magazine was critical to their success.”