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Wednesday
Jan282015

Retail Sale of Bass Encourages Black Market

Largemouth bass painting by Al Agnew

States that allow sale of black bass in markets and restaurants are just asking for trouble, even if regulations specify that they must be hatchery raised. The words of Seth Gordon, the first conservation director for the Izaak Walton League (IWL), serve as a chilling reminder of what once was and what could again be when we don’t learn from history.

“So long as there is a legal market anywhere, you may bank on it that thousands of pounds of illegally caught bass will be sold,” he said during IWL’s all but forgotten campaign during the 1920s to save black bass from decimation by commercial harvest.

Well into the 20th century, black bass were commercial, as well as sport fish. Even as government agencies stocked fish anywhere and everywhere and closed seasons limited sport fishing, commercial fishermen harvested largemouth and smallmouth bass with pound and fyke nets, as well as other means, for sale in the fish markets of many cities.

“Eulogy on the Black Bass” read the headline in a 1927 issue of Forest and Stream, and another in 1930 screamed, “Defrauding Ten Million Anglers.” In the latter article, Edward Kemper slammed the Bureau of Fisheries for “overseeing the slaughter of millions and millions of black bass” and he included a “role of dishonor,” naming 10 states that continued to allow sale of bass in markets.

IWL was the prime mover for passage of the Black Bass Act of 1926, which was introduced into Congress by Rep. Harry Hawes of Missouri. As the law prohibited shipment of bass across state lines, IWL also worked within those states to outlaw commercial harvest.

I learned about this little known chapter in bass history from Jim Long, assistant unit leader of the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Oklahoma State University. He came across this and other long forgotten information as he prepared a presentation on the history of black bass management for a Black Bass Diversity Symposium at a Southern Division Meeting of the American Fisheries Society.

“I’ve read some histories of fisheries but I’ve never seen one for black bass,” he told me. “I wanted original newspaper clippings, not third-hand accounts, and data bases made that possible,” he said.

Pouring through archives, Long found a headline from the 1920s that proclaimed “Hoover Laments Decline of Fishing.” And he discovered that the New York Times listed black bass regulations during the 1870s. “That’s something you don’t see today,” he said.

As he divided his search into major time periods, starting with the 1800s, what surprised Long the most were the influential roles played by the IWL and, before that, by Dr. James A. Henshall.

Author of the 1881 Book of the Black Bass, Henshall was a medical doctor and passionate bass angler. The most quoted line in bass fishing literature belongs to him: “I consider him (black bass), inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims.”

Henshall’s passion, said Long, was to promote black bass as “a pre-eminent gamefish.” But the doctor also was a “lumper,” countering decades of science that preceded him.

Long coined that phrase as the opposite to “splitters,” which describes those who recognize multiple bass species.

“Henshall did a lot of really good work, but he considered the spotted bass a smallmouth, the Guadalupe a largemouth, and the Florida a largemouth,” Long explained. “And he was the authoritative voice.”

So, even though the smallmouth bass and then largemouth bass were identified in 1802, the spotted bass in 1819, the Florida bass in 1822, and the Guadalupe bass in 1874, Henshall’s lumping successfully countered their acknowledgement as separate species until the 1940s.

By the way, no one knows where that first smallmouth was caught before it was shipped to France to be analyzed and given its Latin name. But what Long discovered is that the black bass’s keystone designation as Micropterus was based on a damaged dorsal fin.

“It looked like it had a second, smaller dorsal,” he said. “And that word means small fin or wing.”

With improvement in science over the decades, especially in genetics, Henshall’s lumping has fallen out of favor and we’re not likely to name any new species based on an imperfection. Also, we’ve become much more selective about how and when we stock, and we’re focused on improving habitat as never before as a way to sustain fisheries.

All those are good things. But I am troubled by our politicians and their propensity for repeating harmful chapters in our history, as evidenced by New York’s decision two years ago to allow sale of black bass in markets and restaurants.   

Here’s a link to a column I wrote about this threat in 2011.  

Tuesday
Jan272015

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies Awakens Memories

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies is a book to share with children.

Excellent review for my new book, Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies--- Growing Up With Nature has been posted at Examiner.com. Thanks very much to Ron Presley.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

Well, he’s done it again. Robert Montgomery has produced another book that is motivating, inspiring, and educational. I thought his last book, “Why we Fish”, was outstanding. I think this book is better.

*     *       *

The truth is, I read it in one setting because I couldn’t put it down once I got started. For people that grew up close to nature it will awaken memories of that upbringing. For those without that kind of childhood it will introduce them to the power of the natural world and what and how they can learn from it.

In his introduction Montgomery writes, “When we turn our backs on nature, we lose access to a natural, and free, source of happiness.” “Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies,” weaves a collection of stories into a captivating and educational manuscript describing lessons learned from nature. He demonstrates that those lessons are free to anyone willing to engage her beauty, enjoy her music, study her myths and miracles, and accept her love.

Monday
Jan262015

Georgia Angler Catches Hall of Fame Bass at Rodman

Georgia angler Dwight Whitmore with 14-1 largemouth that he caught and released at Rodman Reservoir.

As the St. Johns Riverkeeper extorts the city of Jacksonville to help in a campaign to destroy Rodman Reservoir, the 9,000-acre impoundment on the Ocklawaha River continues to confirm its reputation as a world-class bass fishery.

Georgia angler Dwight Whitemore recently caught and released a 14-pound, 1-ounce largemouth there while fishing with guide Sean Rush.

“This lake is truly one of the best bass fishing and wildlife sanctuaries in the world,” said Rush, who added that he loves showing his customers the eagles and other wildlife that live there.

“During a remarkable three-day bass trip with Rush, the visiting Georgia anglers caught-and-released 66 bigmouths, which included two fish each weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces; an 8-pound, 8-ouncer; and others weighing 9-pounds-2; 9-pounds-12; 10-pounds-10; 11-pounds-9; plus the massive 14-pound-1 behemoth,” reports Bob McNally in The Times-Union.

 “When I got hold of that fish I knew it was a monster, and we started going crazy in the boat,” Rush said. “I told my anglers it would weigh between 12 and 15 pounds, and they just went wild, high-fiving and back slapping. They knew it was a fish most anglers only dream about catching.”

Once boated, the fish immediately was entered in Florida’s TrophyCatch program.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports:

Although not required to verify a Hall of Fame fish (larger than 13 pounds), FWC fisheries biologist Travis Tuten came off holiday leave with his kids to witness the catch, obtain additional measurements and take a fin clip for genetic analyses. They were also able to video the live release of the first Hall of Fame entry for Season 3 of TrophyCatch (visit www.Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to see the video).

As a Hall of Fame entrant, Whitmore will receive a free replica of his bass, produced by New Wave Taxidermy, $200 in gift cards from TrophyCatch partners like Bass Pro Shops, a Fitzgerald rod and a sweatshirt-sunglasses combo from SpiderWire™. Right now, he also is in contention for the TrophyCatch championship ring that will be awarded by the American Outdoors Fund for the largest verified bass at the end of Season 3 (Oct. 1, 2014 to Sep. 30, 2015).

During their three-day trip, Whitmore also caught and released four additional bass that are eligible for other TrophyCatch awards, and his buddy caught two more.

People can participate in this citizen-science effort and help encourage live release of trophy bass by registering at TrophyCatch. Simply registering makes people eligible for a Phoenix bass boat, powered by Mercury and equipped with a Power-Pole anchoring system and Navionics charting.

Friday
Jan232015

The Power of Backing

“Fishing is much more than fish.  It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.” ---Herbert Hoover

“Put backing on your line; even if you never use it. It helps you dream.” ---Jimmy Moore

“More than half the intense enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done.” --- Charles F. Orvis

Why We Fish --- Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen

“Even though I saw the move coming and sunk the rod to the grips, the fish broke through the surface, pausing on the taut line and loaded fiberglass. There it was, just for an instant, an eye and a mouth. And back down it went, pulling drag and wiping a dozen years of fishing experience from my consciousness.”  ---George Kramer

“The gods do not deduct from man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing. “ --- Babylonian proverb

“All the romance of trout fishing exists in the mind of the angler and is in no way shared by the fish.” --- Harold F. Blaisdell

Thursday
Jan222015

The Best Day

I caught this 5-pound-plus smallmouth during my best day of fishing. Read about it in Why We Fish.

We say that bad fishing days don’t exist. But that’s not true. What we really mean is that we never have bad days on the water, no matter how uncooperative the fish are.

Exploring the reason for that is one of the reasons that I decided to write this book, and you can check elsewhere in these pages for what I’ve discovered from my own experience and that of fishing friends and acquaintances.

But for now, let’s just say that is the reality: A bad day of fishing is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” and “living dead.”

Some days, however, are superior to others, and one of the primary explanations for that is the fish are biting.They’re even better when the bite is extraordinary. And the best when that bite is totally unanticipated, which leads me to my best day of fishing ever.

I’ve had a few other extraordinary days, including several on Mexico’s Lake El Salto, as well as a couple in Canada and Costa Rica. But hopeful expectations accompanied those days on the water.

That certainly was not the case for this early summer day angling for smallmouth bass out of Door County, Wisconsin. With several different guides who gave it their best, I had been trying to fish the Green Bay side of Lake Michigan for several days. But an unusually cold and brutal wind for June persisted out of the west, blowing right into our faces.

In short, we worked hard to avoid and/or navigate the rough waters and catch a few bass. Going into my last day, the trip had been most unmemorable in terms of angling success.

 (This is an excerpt from “The Best Day,” an essay in my book, Why We Fish--- Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.)