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Sunday
May152016

Kids First Cast Helps Grow Fishing and Enrich Lives; You Should Too

"At a young age, I was fortunate to have grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and friends who have shared their passion of fishing with me.  Through the years, this passion for fishing would sustain me through the good and the bad times. It became my “lifeline."  This lifeline brought me experiences that helped give me knowledge, happiness, physical and mental health. But best of all, it allowed me to always learn more about myself."

When I read those words by Diane Aspiazu, president of Kids First Cast, Inc., I knew that we were kindred spirits. Of course, we are not alone. Many of us who fish know this, and that intangible value is what prompted me to write Why We Fish.

But not everyone is doing what Diane and other volunteers up in Idaho are doing to "pass it on," and that is why I encourage you to learn more about this great organization, contribute to it, and think about starting a similar organization in your area.

Recreational fishing is under siege as never before and, if we are to turn the tide we much show those who don't fish--- especially children---- how it can enrich their lives in ways that they can't even imagine until they give it a try and get hooked.

Here's what Kids First Cast, Inc. is doing in 2016:

  • Assisting Idaho Fish and Game with the “Take Me Fishing” trailer schedule by doing 26 fishing outings from April through June.
  • Annual field trip with Sawtooth Middle School to teach 350 kids about the basics of casting and tying fishing knots.
  • Week of the Young Child, teaching 300 kids about casting.
  • Annual VFW Fishing Derby, helping disabled veterans fish for a day.
  • Annual Babe Ruth Jamboree, host casting pools for baseball teams.
  • Annual Scales of Justice Tournament for troubled youth.                                               
  • Annual Conservation Day Clinic.
  • Canyon Military Kids Fishing Derby.
  • VFW Kids Fishing Derby.
  • Wish to Fish Christmas Program. providing Christmas with a “fishing flair” for kids economically challenged.
  • Annual Canyon County Night Light Parade.

Here is the organization's mission statement

Build and sustain healthy communities by providing education, conservation, and outdoor recreation in a safe and inviting environment for kids and their families while enjoying the sport of fishing.

Friday
May132016

Maryland Modifies New Regulations to Accommodate Potomac Tournaments

Responding to strong opposition from tournament anglers and organizations, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) quickly altered its new creel regulation for events on the Potomac River and Upper Chesapeake Bay, avoiding potentially catastrophic consequences for local economies.

But fishermen still are shaking their heads. They wonder about the wisdom of the agency's decision, even with a modification that is acceptable to  tournament organizations, including B.A.S.S. for its Elite Series event in August out of Charles County.

"It (original rule) caught us off guard. We were blind-sided," said Scott Sewell, conservation director for the Maryland B.A.S.S. Nation. "I started getting all kinds of calls from people wondering what was going on.

"Since I'm the conservation director, they thought that I was involved in the decision. I wasn't."

Long-time Potomac River guide Steve Chaconas added, "I don't feel the regulations are really needed. This action is blaming tournament anglers for a perceived issue."

For MDNR, the issue was more than three years of poor catch rates, it announced on March 15. Consequently, it intended to limit competitors fishing Maryland-based tournaments to a 5-fish bag with a 12-inch minimum, only one of which could be more than 15 inches, between June 16 and Oct. 31. "Heavy bass tend to die more than smaller bass in tournaments," the agency explained.

Backlash from B.A.S.S. and other organizers of major events was immediate.  "Although we understand Maryland DNR's desire to address a decline in the bass fisheries of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay, obviously we could not conduct an Elite Series event on waters where anglers cannot weigh in their biggest catches," said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin.

"That would not be fair to the anglers, the fans, the hosts, or the sportfishing community." 

Following talks with Sewell  and others, MDNR, to its credit, quickly added an "Option 2" to the regulation. It does not restrict a competitor to one fish of more than 15 inches.

"The Department appreciates the input and has made modifications to the original possession restriction," the agency said.

"Option 2 requires directors to adhere to special conditions that minimize fish stress, thereby reducing fishing mortality. These special conditions have been modeled after those used in Florida bass fisheries."

Conditions include requiring directors to recover exhausted bass following a tournament and redistribute them to approved locations, as well as other actions to improve survival of large bass.

B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland said,  "I believe MDNR had the interest of the fishery at heart but took a few missteps when they tried to implement protective measures.

"They should have involved the tournament organizations more, early in the process, since they were the target audience and I think they might have avoided some of the conflict that we saw. 

"But they listened and adapted and came up with some options that will allow tournaments to continue under a special set of fish care protocols.  That's good for the resource and good for tournaments."

What mystifies Sewell, though, is why MDNR seemed to act unilaterally on this. "We have an outstanding relationship with them," he said. "I was really taken aback when they didn't consult us. I could have told them that they would be lighting a firestorm with this."

Additionally, the conservation director said little mention was made of a possible regulation change at the annual Black Bass Roundtable in February. "We talked about an aggressive stocking program, areas for catch-and-release only, and educating anglers on how to better care for their catch," he said.

Also at the roundtable, Chaconas added, "Keep in mind this action is not the way Maryland has been managing this fishery. They have previously managed by committee. That is, they send out surveys and take a lot of feedback before acting. In this case, the regulation was barely discussed with no outcome."

Both Sewell and Chaconas, meanwhile, pointed out that other factors  are having a more profound impact on the bass fishery than tournaments, with pollution and changes in submerged aquatic grasses among the foremost. They also believe that the bass fishery is healthier than MDNR has determined from its electrofishing surveys.

"The loss of milfoil and the increase in hydrilla are affecting surveys and the fishing," the guide said. "Anecdotally, the last two years have been my best. I have modified my tactics, which include avoiding grass and targeting hard cover and channel edges. This is successful for me until the hydrilla covers everything. I also target hard hydrilla edges at low tides, or deeper edges at any tide, or areas with scattered grass in front of hydrilla edges."

But even though rationale for and implementation of the regulation are questionable, Gilliland said that Option 2 could be helpful.

"We at B.A.S.S. have preached better fish care for years, but unfortunately there are still a lot of anglers and clubs that don't believe there is a need to follow our proven procedures because they don't believe delayed mortality exists, or they just don't care, which is even more sad," he said.

"Given the relatively low level of adoption of best management practices, these new rules will force the issue. Do it right or don't get the exemption from the new length limit."

While impact from tournaments on bass populations may be minimal, he added, "the negative social aspects of tournaments and fish kills that result are things that agencies have to deal with."

With non-tournament anglers often looking for ways to shut down competitions, MDNR's actions actually could benefit tournaments in the long-term, the national conservation director said. They force better fish-care practices and, thus, reduce chances that bad things will happen, as well as opportunities for critics to find fault.

"I think, over time, organizations will adopt and adapt and realize that a little pain was worth the gain," Gilliland said.

Wednesday
May112016

 

Wednesday
May112016

Sustaining Mille Lacs Smallmouths While Rebuilding Walleye Fishery a Tough Challenge for Minnesota DNR

 

 Maintaining a single world-class fishery in a lake is one of the greatest challenges for a state wildlife agency. As they employ and/or alter regulations, resource managers must consider constantly changing biological and environmental variables, as well as possible economic and social impacts.

And when a lake has two world-class fisheries and one of them is in decline . . .

"It's a complicated mess," said Eric Jensen, a large lake biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

That's the situation that DNR finds itself in at Mille Lacs Lake, site of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship Sept. 15-18. With a five-fish bag of 25 pounds not uncommon, the smallmouth fishery arguably is more robust than ever, earning a No. 10 ranking among the best bass lakes in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine in 2015.

On the flip side, the once productive walleye fishery is in steep decline. In fact it's so steep that the agency finally went all the way and imposed a ban on harvest in 2016, and prohibited the use of live bait, except on launch (party) boats.

At the same time it's been imposing tighter and tighter restrictions on walleye harvest in recent years, it's been allowing increased harvest of smallmouth bass. In 2013, the limit went from one fish to six. This year's it's four.

But Jensen's comment was not intended to suggest that DNR doesn't have sound science to back these decisions. Rather it reflects that  management regarding such  popular, productive, and economically important fisheries is controversial, as they impact diverse constituencies.

How so? Many walleye anglers want to keep and eat their catch, while most bass anglers catch and release, with no thought given to harvest.  But for 2016, at least, meat fishermen can't keep their preferred species. Yet they can take home bass.

As a consequence, bass anglers fear irreparable harm to the smallmouth population.  Concurrently, many resorts and other businesses around the lake fear the ban on walleye harvest will do damage local economies, as anglers go elsewhere, where they can keep the fish that they prefer to target.

While a state legislator introduced an ill-fated bill to negate the ban on walleye harvest, the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation (MBN) joined forces with the newly formed Mille Lacs Smallmouth Bass Alliance (MLSBA) to launch an awareness campaign about the importance of catch and release for sustaining the lake as a world-class bass fishery. They intend to post signs at private ramps around the 132,000-acre lake.

"We want to educate fishermen and businesses too that catch and release, not catch and kill, is the way to go," said Mickey Goetting, conservation director of the MBN, which has started a GoFundMe page to raise $2,750 for the effort.

MBN posted this message on the page: "Smallmouth have become the target as a replacement for walleye table fare. Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation is concerned that increased fishing pressure and a substantial increase in harvest could adversely impact the world-class Mille Lacs smallmouth bass fishery. Smallmouth bass grow very slowly and we need to protect them."

DNR, however, steadfastly maintains that is not sacrificing bass or trying to reduce bass populations to reduce predation on walleye. Rather, its intent is to "provide alternate harvest opportunities, preserve quality sizes, and maintain quality catch rates."

Last fall's gill net survey "showed the highest catch we've ever seen (for smallmouth bass)," Jensen said. "Since 1998, the trend has been steadily upward."

Additionally, 74,150 smallmouth bass were released in 2015, while only an estimated 5,000 were harvested. "Not everyone is keeping bass," he added.

Sadly, the walleye population has been declining for nearly a decade. Causes are uncertain, but potential causes could be the same ones contributing to increasing numbers of hefty bronzebacks. "A lot has been going on at the same time," the biologist said.

That includes increasing water clarity, which benefits bass, primarily sight feeders. Walleye prefer darker conditions. Also, clearer water means less productivity in the form of phytoplankton and zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain for prey fish to eat. "Walleye eat mostly fish, and there's not as many fish," Jensen explained. "Smallmouth also eat crayfish."

With warming water possibly contributing, these changes began even before the introduction of  invasive zebra mussels and spiny water fleas. But they seem to have accelerated as the exotics proliferated, gobbling up zooplankton and filtering out much of the lake's energy.

In a nutshell, not enough young walleye have been surviving to maturity and replenishing the population since at least 2008, with numbers being at a 40-year low in 2015. But hope is on the horizon, thanks to a strong year class in 2013, which DNR wants to protect via the ban on harvest.

"As walleye get to 14 inches, they are more desirable and that 2013 class is moving into that size now," Jensen said. "It's strong and it looks like it's going to contribute to spawning biomass. Females grow much larger than males and, in another couple of years, they will really start to contribute."

But bass anglers fear what will happen, as meat fishermen turn their focus to the smallmouth population while walleyes slowly recovers.

"This is a very special fishery with national significance to bass anglers everywhere," said Jim DaRosa, president of the alliance. "Mille Lacs needs to be protected. It may take several years to restore walleye to the levels they once were. We want to be proactive and make sure the smallmouth are healthy and sustainable while the walleye population is being restored."

Bass Regulations History for Mille Lacs

Before 2000: 6 fish, smallmouth and largemouth bass.

2000: 1 fish, 21 inches minimum length.

2013: 6 fish,  with one longer than 20 inches. Protected slot of 17 to 20 inches.

2014: 6 fish,  with one longer than 18 inches. Season opens with walleye. No fall catch-and-release restriction. 

2016 Regulations for Bass, Walleye, Northern Pike

 Bass:  4 fish, with one longer than 21 inches. All bass between 17 and 21 inches must be released immediately. 

Walleye:  From May 14 to Dec. 1, anglers targeting walleye must use artificial bait and immediately release all walleye caught. Night closure beginning May 16, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and continuing through Dec. 1.

Northern Pike: 5 fish with only one longer than 40 inches. all pike 30 to 40 inches long must be immediately released.

Sunday
May082016

Go Fishing, Go to Jail Part 2

For those of you who don't think that sport fishing ever will be banned or even restricted in the Canada and the United States, may I suggest a couple of things?

  •  Plug "animal rights" into a Google Search a couple of times a week to see what the enemy is doing. Yes, the animal rights  (not to be confused with animal welfare) folks pose the primary threat, and  they are an integral part of the powerful PC movement and all the idiocy that comes with it.
  • Second, acquaint yourself with the facts. I'll help you with that. But many of you won't bother to read all of this. Instead, you will shrug it off as an irrational fear and/or insult me as has happened with a previous post about the threat to recreational fishing posed by a bill introduced into Canada's Parliament (C-246):

1. Although 90 percent of Americans approve of legal fishing and support using fish for food, 25 to 30 percent of  people in urbanized states think that angling for sport is cruel. In less urbanized states, the percentage is still about 20 percent.

"The results suggest that in the United States, levels of anti-angling sentiment are consistent with those reported in other post-industrialized countries such as Germany, where stringent regulations on recreational fishing have already been put in place," say the authors of a study, "A Primer on Anti-Angling Philosophy and Its Relevance for Recreational Fisheries in Urbanized Societies," which was published in Fisheries, a scientific journal.

2.  In a 2008 survey in Germany, 57 percent thought use of live baitfish is immoral and 65 percent thought the same about "non-harvest-oriented competitive fishing events." Forty percent thought that catch and release is unethical.

Additionally, 35 percent agreed with statements that "fish are suffering unnecessarily due to recreational anglers" and "catching and releasing fish during recreational fishing constitutes unnecessary cruelty to animals."

"Finally, about a quarter (26 percent) thought that there is a pressing need to improve issues of animal welfare in Germany, despite recreational fishing being already heavily constrained and regulated for animal welfare reasons."

3. In Austria, about 20 percent thought that recreational fishing "disturbs the ecological balance and that recreational anglers do no care enough about nature and are only interested in an abundant fish harvest."

4. In Switzerland, the Animal Welfare Act makes the intention of voluntary catch-and-release fishing an offense because it is in conflict with the dignity of the fish and its presumed ability to suffer and to feel pain.

"A similar ruling had already been in force in Germany since the 1980s, in which, based on a combination of arguments related to inherent value and fishing practices thought to induce pain and suffering, activities such as voluntary catch and release, use of live baitfish, use of keep nets, and tournament fishing were partly, implicitly, or explicitly  banned.

"Similarly, put-and-immediate-take fishing is found unacceptable because the only justified reason for going fishing is to capture fish as food . . .

"Wider economic benefits created by angling are usually not considered a sufficient justification—it all boils down to the individual benefits experienced by the angler, and here food provision is currently the only acceptable reason."

In conclusion, the study's authors make this frightening appraisal:

In Germany an angler needs a “reasonable reason” to be allowed to fish recreationally and thereby intentionally inflict pain and suffering on the supposedly sentient fish. Currently, the legally accepted reasonable cause is personal fish consumption, and anglers must have the intention to harvest before casting.

"One might be inclined to say, 'It is never going to happen here,' which might have been what the Swiss angling community thought before voluntary catch and release was banned by law in 2008.

"It may only need a willing and able public prosecutor and some judges with anti-angling sentiments to further the case by asking, 'Is recreational fishing reasonable, irrespective of the intention of the angler?'

"Obviously, this development was probably facilitated by poor political support in the recreational fisheries sector, but it also exemplifies how a particular social climate that is concerned with the (suffering-defined) welfare of fish targeted by recreational anglers can have immediate implications for fisheries practice, including constraints on the set of tools available to fisheries managers for managing and conserving wild fish populations."