SPRINGFIELD, Mo. --- B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott, legendary angler Bill Dance, and country music artist John Anderson were honored for their conservation achievements by Bass Pro Shops (BPS) and its founder Johnny Morris during a holiday ceremony at BPS headquarters here.
“All of us at Bass Pro Shops are proud to honor these individuals for their unwavering dedication to conservation,” said Morris. “Long recognized and well respected as leaders for their conservation efforts and support, they continue to help restore and conserve our natural resources and important habitats for North America's wildlife.”
As recipient of a Fisherman's Best Friend Award, Scott is best known for popularizing catch and release among bass fishermen. "Today more than 98 percent of bass weighed in during national B.A.S.S. tournaments are returned alive to the waters," BPS said. "He also advocated against the dumping of aquatic herbicides into public waters."
A recipient of the same honor, Dance is a long-time friend of Morris and they have worked together often to promote conservation issues. Most recently, Dance played a key role in the placement of a Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid in his hometown of Memphis.
Anderson was recognized as Conservation Partner of the Year because of his "strong belief in the need to give back more to conservation than we take" and for donating his time and talent with performances at national conservation conventions. Love of the outdoors, inspired by his father, was the inspiration for his popular song, "Seminole Wind."
Additionally, former U.S. Marine Mark Geist was recognized with a special Defender of Freedom Award.
Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon attended the event, as did NASCAR star Martin Truex, Jr. Nixon was honored last year for his leadership in conservation and outdoors issues during his administration. Truex was there to thank Morris and BPS for its donations to the Martin Truex, Jr. Foundation in support of cancer research.
HOUSTON — In 2013, Jordan Lee was a member of the Auburn University fishing team.
Today, he’s on top of the professional bass fishing world.
The 25-year-old pro from Guntersville, Ala., stayed within striking distance all week at the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Then during Sunday’s final round at Minute Maid Park, he caught five bass from Lake Conroe that weighed 27 pounds, 4 ounces, pushing his three-day total to a tournament-best 56-10.
Lee earned $300,000 and the most coveted trophy in the sport, while Steve Kennedy — a resident of Auburn, Ala. — finished second with 55-1.
“To all of the guys fishing the college tournaments right now, this just says you can do it,” Lee said. “It’s hard work — and you’re going to have a lot of days out here that aren’t good.
“On this lake, I wasn’t sure there was any way I could do it. But you’re never out of it here.”
Lee had every reason to fold after Friday’s first round when he caught only three fish that weighed 8-6. But Saturday provided a revelation that would ultimately lead to his first B.A.S.S. victory.
He was fishing a point with a hard bottom that he found during practice, and he believed it would pay off during the tournament. After failing to catch a fish there in windy, cloudy conditions on Friday, he returned to the spot in calmer weather on the following day.
“With zero fish in the box at noon on the second day, I went back to that spot and caught a 7 1/2-pounder on the first cast,” Lee said. “When I was landing that fish, there was a whole school of 5- and 6-pounders that came with it.
“Right then, I knew something was about to happen — and I caught two more that were both big.”
Lee still didn’t manage a five-bass limit on Saturday, but the four fish he brought to the scales weighed 21-0.
That moved Lee into 15th place with 29-6 and guaranteed him a spot in Sunday’s Top 25. But he still didn’t feel good about his chances of catching California angler Brent Ehrler, who had led the first two rounds of the event and entered Championship Sunday with 43-4.
Sunday began with Lee planning to fish his magic point all day — even if the fishing had fizzled. As it turns out, he didn’t have much of a choice.
Engine troubles left him without the ability to run from spot to spot and forced him to milk every possible bite out of the point. He eventually had to hitch a ride back to the weigh-in with a spectator that he knew from Cullman, Ala. — a legal ploy in the Classic, as long as no fishing takes place in the spectator’s boat.
Lee’s main baits were a Strike King 5XD crankbait in the citrus shad color pattern, a football jig with a Rage Craw and a Space Monkey for a trailer and a Bullworm on a magnum shaky head.
“I stuck with it all day and caught fish on a football jig with a Rage Craw and a Space Monkey,” Lee said. “I threw the 5XD and the Bullworm and didn’t really get any bites on them. I caught all 27 pounds on that football jig.”
Of the hundreds of points on Conroe, Lee said it was one section of hard bottom that seemed to make his point special. Casting across the point — rather than parallel to it — was the better play all week.
“I never caught any shells or anything, so I think it was a gravel or a rock bottom,” he said. “It was really subtle. There was no brush. It was just kind of a flat point, and I was fishing probably 100 yards offshore.”
Lee had to sweat through the final few anglers, including Kennedy who weighed in 21-15 and fell just 1-9 short of the title. The final angler with a chance to unseat Lee from the top of the leaderboard was Ehrler, who weighed in just 11-10 and finished third with 54-14.
Ehrler was trying to become just the sixth angler in Classic history to lead the event from wire-to-wire and the first since Cliff Pace in 2013. Instead, he became the second angler in a row to lead the first two days, only to fall short in the end.
“I’m disappointed,” Ehrler said. “But what I really wanted to do coming in was be in position to win on the final day. I did that, but things just didn’t work out today.”
Ehrler earned the Berkley Big Bass Award of $2,500 for the largest fish of the event with a 9-12 largemouth he caught on Friday.
Ehrler also earned the GEICO Everyday Leader Award of $1,000 and the $1,500 GEICO Everyday Leader Bonus for leading both Friday and Saturday.
The event itself drew thousands of people to morning takeoffs at Lake Conroe Park, the Outdoors Expo presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods and the daily weigh-ins at Minute Maid Park, home of Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros.
Out on the water, biologists observe the effects of climate change on fisheries. At conferences, they talk about its implications. For example, at an annual meeting of the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society, concerns about its effects were discussed in at least seven presentations, several of them involving bass.
One abstract summarized this way: “Climate change is thought to be a leading driver in the erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability at all scales.”
Yet, some anglers deny the reality of climate change, and I speak from personal experience in saying that. I’ve met them.
So have the biologists. “When I explain what is happening (to fishermen), I have to tip toe all around the reasons for change,” says one.
Why is that?
Certainly a number of them do not believe. But for most, I think that refusal to accept reality has more to do with blind rejection of what they view as the “party line” for environmentalists. And I can relate to that argument.
Much of the “green” agenda is anti-fishing, as typified by attempts to ban lead fishing tackle, and campaigns to create “protected areas,” where recreational fishing would not be allowed. Let’s not forget, either, an adjunct of that, the animal rights movement, which now wants to use drones to stalk and harass hunters and fishermen.
But what anglers with tunnel vision fail to see is that enviros are beating the drum to end “manmade” climate change. Questioning the validity of that argument is where fishermen should make their case, not denying that the climate changes and, in so doing, affects fisheries.
Of course climate changes. It’s a dynamic force.
More than a century ago, Mark Twain reputedly said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” The reality, though, is that’s the case, no matter where you live. As fronts move in and out, weather changes --- by the minute, by the hour, by the day. And just as it evolves over these short periods, it changes during longer stretches of time as well --- by the year, by the decade, by the century.
“When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather,” says the National Atmospheric and Space Administration.
Anglers who deny this fact of life damage our reputation as conservationists, and alienate some of our closest allies, the biologists. Instead of being supporters of enlightened management to sustain fisheries, they become barriers.
Most importantly, in rejecting climate change, they are disputing the idea that changes occur naturally in fisheries, changes for which there are no “solutions.”
Still not convinced? Just look to the north and south, the front lines for fisheries altered by climate change.
In Florida, milder winters have allowed snook to move up the Gulf Coast. Eight years ago, the saltwater predator was an infrequent visitor to Crystal River. Now it seems to be a firmly established resident --- and a competitor with bass for forage and habitat. Long-time angler Matt Beck says that it’s not uncommon to catch more snook than bass when fishing for the latter. “Today, snook in the 20- to 35-pound range are caught on a regular basis,” he adds.
Florida biologist Allen Martin says the state has no data on the river’s bass population, but he doesn’t doubt Beck’s observation.
“With mild winters, snook have moved as far north as the Suwannee, about 100 miles to the north,” says the biologist, adding that degraded habitat and increased salinity because of lower flows of springs likely have contributed to changes as well.
“Peacock bass, armored catfish, and tilapia moved farther northern too,” he adds. “A couple of cold winters knocked them back, but they probably will start moving north again.”
Meanwhile, water temperatures have been warming for 47 years on New York’s Oneida Lake, a benefit for bass.
“It’s been particularly pronounced since the 1980s, when smallmouth bass really started to take off,” says Randy Jackson, a biologist with the Cornell Biological Field Station on the lake. “At Lake Erie, there’s a strong correlation too.”
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that largemouth bass, bowfin, longnose gar, and gizzard shad also are profiting from warmer weather, he adds. Concurrently, the cold-water burbot, on the southern end of its range, is declining.
“This is all consistent with what people are predicting,” he says. “No one can argue than we have warmer lakes than we did 40 years ago.”
I wish that were true, especially among anglers.
Yielding three double-digit largemouth bass in January, little Lake Akins in west-central Arkansas is looking more and more as if it just might be the fishery to produce the next state record bass. The current record, a hefty 16 pounds, 8 ounces, was caught by Aaron Mardis in 1976 on Mallard Lake.
On Jan. 23, an 11.7-pound bass was taken from a public pier on the 752-acre lake managed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). A few days later, Sharon Vinson of the Lucky Landing Bait Shop weighed in another 11, as well as a 10 and several others that topped 5 pounds. Most of those, including the second 11, also were caught from the pier, with minnows and shad the baits of choice.
Those big bass likely were among the first Florida-strain bass stocked in the lake in 2003, after it was rehabilitated, according to biologist Frank Leone.
“That would make these fish about 14 years old, which is nearing the end of a Florida-strain bass’s lifespan in Arkansas,” Leone said. “We’re keeping an eye on the population and hoping that we don’t begin to see a decline in those fish that reach what we like to call the ‘memorable’ class.”
Lying between Interstate 40 to the north and the Arkansas River to the south, Lake Atkins originally was impounded in 1956. But over the years, it became overrun with rough fish, including carp and bigmouth buffalo, and that prompted a drawdown and renovation project. A partial drawdown and fish kill in 2002 turned into a near total drawdown when a dam gate malfunctioned, leaving only 25 acres of water left at one point.
“That drawdown enabled us to remove the rough fish and remove northern strain largemouths from the system before we stocked it with Florida-strain bass,” the biologist added. “Through our genetics testing, we’ve seen the lake begin to shift slowly back to northern-strain bass, possibly from fish entering the system from the feeder creek or people moving fish, but we still see many good 5-pound-plus fish every time we electrofish at Atkins.”