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Wednesday
Feb042015

War on Bass Heats Up in Northwest

Washington state has joined the campaign to eliminate smallmouths like this from Northwest rivers.

For years, individuals and non-government groups in the Northwest have waged a war on bass, pushing for removal of limits and even bounties on the fish that have been established in some waters for more than a century. They blame predation by the warm-water species for the general decline of salmon and steelhead, even though evidence suggests that is true only in limited and isolated cases.

Many fisheries biologists, meanwhile, have been sympathetic to the cause, while state agencies mostly have treated bass and other nonnative warm-water species with benign neglect, instead of open hostility.

Until recently.

The cold-water war against bass has heated up, as Washington State has removed size and bag limits for bass and walleye in the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries above McNary Dam on the Washington/Oregon border. The big question now is what will happen on the lower 300 miles, which serve as a border between Washington and Oregon, as the former seems intent on pushing for removal of limits there as well.

Traditionally, the two have tried to manage with the same regulations on this river that is world famous for its hefty smallmouths.

“Previously, it was NGOs (non-government organizations) pushing for removal of limits. But now the mindset seems to have changed in Olympia (Washington state capital),” says a biologist, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“Now, I’m pretty sure that Washington will propose taking the rest of the regulations off.  If Washington does it, will Oregon go along?” he asks. “They (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) said that they wouldn’t rubber stamp it, that they’d have to see the biological benefits of doing so. But I’m skeptical.”

Additionally, now that a state has joined the war, its advocates might enlist the aid of Indian tribes as surrogates to sue both states for removal of limits.

The feds already have sided with the anti-bass faction, and, in fact, pressured Washington state to conform. The state also was considering taking off the bag limit, but requiring that only three bass per angler could be more than 15 inches.

In response, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) said that option “would imply a desire by WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) to maintain a healthy population of large, non-native predators.”

Yet the agency also admitted that quantifying the damage done to salmon and steelhead by bass “is difficult to quantify.” And it admitted, “The extent to which a regulation change will affect the harvest of these species and thereby reduce predation rates on at-risk salmon and steelhead populations is uncertain . . .”

Still, even if limits on bass are removed all the way to the mouth of the Columbia, anglers likely won’t see a big change in the population. That’s because most of the fishermen who target smallmouths release them.

So, even if smallmouth predation were having a significant impact on salmon and steelhead generally --- and it’s not --- removing limits would do little to remedy that.

“On the main stem of the Columbia, increasing spill (dam discharges) instead of storing water for hydropower, would be more helpful,” says the biologist. “It would make the Columbia more like a river again, fish wouldn’t bottle up, and water temperatures would lower, meaning predators wouldn’t feed as aggressively.

“But spill is money, while bass are low-hanging fruit that are easy to target.”

Social implications, however, could be significant, with relationships becoming even more strained between warm-water anglers and state wildlife agencies. When resource managers remove limits on a species, they are saying that it has no value. Yet thousand of anglers annually pay licenses and fees to fish for smallmouth bass. In return, they want a return on their investment.

And they have the right to expect that.

Additionally, their financial contributions benefit all fisheries, both warm-water and cold, as they enable the states to qualify for matching funds from the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Before removing size and bag limits on smallmouths, Northwest resource managers would be wise to remember that.

If they truly wanted to revive native species, they would insist on blowing out the dams that have impeded their migration and spawning, while creating hospitable habitat for bass and other warm-water species.

But those dams also provide hydropower and water for agriculture, benefitting millions of people. Consequently, they will stay too, while bass remain low-hanging fruit that are easy to target by private groups, and now, it seems, at least one state government.

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

Monday
Feb022015

Sturgeon Recovery Prompts Less Restrictive Regulations in Minnesota

Bruce Holt of G.Loomis (front) and guide John Garrett, briefly hold a white sturgeon for photos

Arguably the Columbia River is the nation’s premier fishery for large sturgeon.

Fishing with guide John Garrett a few years ago, G.Loomis’ Bruce Holt, former PGA golfer Johnny Miller and I caught five white sturgeon , each measuring 9 feet long or more and weighing at least 300 pounds. We could have caught more, but wind and high waves finally chased us off the river.

With the three of us battered and beaten by the huge fish and rough conditions, Miller asked the guide, “Have you ever killed a fisherman out here?”

“Not yet,” said Garrett. “Not yet.”

Will Spychalla and Carlin Salmela caught this 75-inch sturgeon Jan. 1, 2015, on the St. Croix River. The fish, estimated to weigh 115 pounds, could have easily bested the Minnesota record of 94 pounds, 4 ounces, but had to be immediately released because it was out of season. New state rules will allow anglers to target lake sturgeon throughout much of the year. (Photo courtesy of Blue Ribbon Bait & Tackle)

Minnesota’s lake sturgeon aren’t that large--- 6 feet long and 100 pounds is a trophy. But they’re becoming more and more abundant, highlighting the impressive recovery of an ancient species once nearly wiped out by overfishing. Reflecting that recovery, the state is introducing liberalized regulations beginning March 1, as reported by Twincities.com.

“At the center of the changes are catch-and-release seasons that will run for most of the year on the St. Croix, Mississippi and St. Louis rivers, the Red River of the North and all inland waters, including the Kettle River, where the official state record -- 94 pounds, 4 ounces -- was caught in 1994.

“The Kettle, which flows into the St. Croix in St. Croix State Park, is among a number of inland waters where sturgeon fishing has been closed for years as populations declined. Under the new rules, all inland waters will be open to catch-and-release fishing from June 16 to April 14.

“Sturgeon well over 100 pounds and longer than 6 feet likely have been caught in the St. Croix River between Taylors Falls and its mouth at the Mississippi River, according to anglers and biologists, with some angler-caught specimens weighing perhaps as much as 150 pounds. Previously, that stretch of water was open to sturgeon fishing for only a month and a half in the fall. The new season will allow fishing throughout the year except from March 2 to June 15.”

Friday
Jan302015

Friday
Jan302015

Are You Smarter Than a Fish?

You’re just outsmarting yourself if you try to “out-think” fish.

Consider bass, for instance. They are capable of learned behavior. But they definitely aren’t the “Einsteins” of the fish world. Carp and bluegill rank higher in laboratory tests. Most importantly, though, bass (and other fish species) don’t “think” and they aren’t “smart.”

 Rather, bass are selective as to food, cover, and water, and, each spring, they are driven by the biological imperative to spawn. Those anglers who are smart enough to recognize those needs and respond accordingly, are the ones who catch the most and largest bass.  They look for water and cover that they have learned is attractive to bass during each season of the year. They learn the migration routes that fish take to those locations. They observe what bass are feeding on and try to offer baits that are similar in appearance.

 Secret: Although bass are not smart, they do remember and seem to learn to avoid some baits. That why new baits--- and new colors, to a lesser degree--- seem to produce better than older styles. For awhile. We saw it happen with buzzbaits in the 1980s and soft jerkbaits in the 1990s. Then came Senkos, swimbaits, and, more recently, chatterbaits, frogs, and swimbaits.

 Secret: The plastic worm (and possibly its many cousins in assorted shapes and sizes) seems to be the only bait that bass do not learn to avoid. Probably that is why it remains the most used artificial bait by anglers of all abilities.

 From my first book, Better Bass Fishing--- Secrets From the Headwaters by a Bassmaster Senior Writer. 

Check out all of my books here.

Thursday
Jan292015

BoatUS Warns About 15 Percent Ethanol in North Carolina

Sheetz, a convenience store chain, announced on Jan. 21 that it would offer E15 fuel – gas containing up to 15% ethanol – at 60 of their North Carolina locations beginning in early 2015. Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) believes that could be a problem for recreational boaters, motorists and many other users of gasoline-powered equipment and vehicles.

No marine engines are warrantied to run on E15 and according to AAA, most automobile manufacturers say any damage due to the use of this higher ethanol blend fuel will void the warranty.

In the US, nine out of every ten boaters own a trailerable boat that is most often filled up at a roadside gas station – not at a marina gas dock. While any gasoline with greater than 10% ethanol (E10) is prohibited for use with recreational boat engines, it’s a common practice among trailer boaters to fill the tow vehicle first, then simply pull the boat up to the pump and insert the same gas pump nozzle into to boat’s fuel fill. A small, inadequate warning label on the pump pointing to the prohibited uses of E15 may contribute to a situation ripe for misfueling.

“This isn’t just about boats,” said BoatUS Government Affairs Program Manager Nicole Palya-Wood. “If you own an older car, truck, or any small engine such as a lawnmower or leaf blower that uses gas, you will need to be very aware -- and take an extra moment to ensure -- you’re not putting higher ethanol E15 in the tank.

"At stations that offer multiple fuel selections these corn-based ethanol fuels are often the lowest price, which is an attraction for frugal boaters. Ironically, owners of small, affordable boats could get hit the hardest when the expensive repair bill comes."

BoatUS, which has nearly 20,000 members in North Carolina, will continue to lobby Congress to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – a law which forces these higher blends and less compatible fuels onto the public. For more on the Renewable Fuel Standard go here.

Sheetz operates 437 locations in six states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina.