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Entries in catch-and-release (38)

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.

Tuesday
Mar082016

Is Stockpiling a Problem for Bass Fisheries? It Depends . . . 

Live-release boats prevent stockpiling of bass in the weigh-in areas.

Prompted by B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott,  anglers of the 1970s began to release their fish instead of kill them. During those early years, only the big picture was in focus, and it revealed bass fishermen to be stewards who cared about conserving the resource.

Then we began to closer examine our actions and their consequences, and we realized that not all of those released bass survived, including many caught in tournaments. We recognized that improper handling led to delayed mortality. We worked to increase survival rates by devising and promoting better ways to handle bass from lake to livewell to weigh-in stand and finally to release. In 2002,  B.A.S.S. compiled a "Keeping Bass Alive" handbook for anglers and tournament organizers.

We're not there yet, and likely never will be in terms of keeping all bass alive after they are released, but we've dramatically lowered delayed mortality rates through innovation and education.

And as we've responded to that challenge, we've noted yet another, this one specifically related to tournament fishing: Stockpiling.

Traditionally, the term referred to what the United States and USSR did with nuclear weapons during the Cold War or what survivalists continue to do with food, firearms, and precious metals. But during the past two decades or so, fisheries managers have recognized it as a phenomenon that occurs when all the bass are released near the weigh-in site following a tournament or two or three . . .

What's the problem with stockpiling? At a meeting last fall with Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) biologists, concerned anglers suggested that when bass are collectively released at a weigh-in site they become more susceptible to meat fishermen who catch and kill, as well as easier targets for future tournament anglers, resulting in increased  chances of stress, injury, and delayed mortality.

MDNR agreed that stockpiling can damage the overall health of a fishery, and Tony Prochaska, Inland Fisheries division manager, added that the issue likely is a national one. As evidence, he pointed out that 6 of 10 northeastern states that responded to questions about this issue said it is a concern.

Telemetry work conducted in the North East and Potomac rivers decades ago revealed that some fish will leave the release area, but about half may remain for a month or more. Out in California, a study conducted during the 1990s on Lake Shasta showed that largemouth bass moved less than three miles from where they were released. 

MDNR's tidal bass manager, Joe Love, says that the issue comes down to two questions:

1) Are too many fish being taken from one area, such as isolated streams and then released at a distant weigh-in site?

2) Are too many fish being released at a weigh-in area?

"We've found that the answer to both of these questions is that it depends on the weigh-in area," he said. "Specifically, it depends on the number of shore anglers fishing the weigh-in area, water quality in the area, and the distance of the weigh-in area from streams where the fish were taken."

Additional variables include the numbers and sizes of the fish weighed and the sizes and timing of the tournaments

Anglers and fisheries managers alike agree that there's an acceptable  loss or mortality of fish, Love added.  Otherwise there wouldn't be limits. But how much does stockpiling add to that loss, especially at popular sites where multiple weigh-ins are staged each season?

"Pinpointing the relative impact of a single factor is nearly impossible, making successful mitigation of that single factor improbable," the biologist said. "In combination with other factors affecting a fishery, though, stockpiling may affect a fishery if it increases the number of fish caught and released at the weigh-in site and the number of fish caught and eaten at the weigh-in site, both of which increases fishing mortality and reduces the proportion of big fish in a population."

Unlike habitat loss and other factors affecting the quality of a bass fishery, stockpiling likely can be managed. MDNR hopes to do that by having tournament directors specify what management practices they intend to use, such as spreading around weigh-in areas during a tournament trail and/or reducing possession limits.

"We also are working with some tournament organizations such as B.A.S.S. and PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America) to redistribute fish when they request assistance because of otherwise significant, undue harm to bass survival," Love said.

Because of so many variables, stockpiling is a more complex problem than delayed mortality, but fisheries managers and concerned anglers are working on it to better protect and enhance the nation's bass fisheries.

Monday
Feb082016

This Time, Anglers Are Attacked

Anglers who caught a huge tiger shark off the coast of Australia have been attacked with the same indignant outrage as that heaped on the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion.

Never mind that the two incidents are vastly different. That doesn't matter to the name-calling know-nothings whose comments highlight their colossal ignorance regarding wildlife and nature. What matters to these "animal lovers" is that they want to heap abuse on those who fish and hunt.

And in doing so, the implication should be clear to all of us who hunt or fish and occasionally keep what we catch: They don't want us doing it either, and, if they have their way, one day we won't be able to. They've already scored victories on this front in western Europe, where catch-and-release isn't allowed in some countries because its "cruel" and in others where live bait can't be used because it's equally offensive.

How ignorant are these people? Here's one comment on Facebook, where the photo of the  nearly 1,400-pound shark and the anglers originally was posted:

"WTF is wrong with these people leave the Sharks alone without them out ocean would be a lot more polluted." (Comment is reprinted just as it was written.)

And here's an excerpt from another:

". . . you went into another's place of residence and fought an unfair battle, you were armed with a weapon that has placed this creature in an unfair situation. To me you are cowards . . . "

That's called anthropomorphizing, and that's what these people do. In other words, they attribute human qualities, needs, emotions, etc. to animals. In fact, a primary objective of the most radical is achieve legal "personhood" for animals.

The same types of comments and attacks surfaced on social media against hunters and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the wake of last fall's bear hunt, which the agency deemed an appropriate management tool to help control the state's exploding bear population.

With the shark, meanwhile, we know little about the circumstances of the catch and why the anglers decided to keep the fish instead of release it. What we do know, though, is that their catch was legal.

And we know that they were using light line (15 kg-pound test, or the equivalent of about 30-pound). What that suggests is that they probably were not targeting sharks, and that a long fight was required to bring it to the boat.  And the longer the battle, the more likely that the shark was too exhausted to survive afterward. That sometimes happens when large fish are caught on light line.

Of course, that's of absolutely no importance to the know-nothings who say things like this:

"You are just as bad as poachers in Africa."

They are relentless too, and not in the least bit troubled by their ignorance, as they are fueled entirely by emotion.

And as we become an increasingly urbanized society, where more and more people spend little time outdoors and have no clue as to how nature works, this is only going to get worse for those of us who fish and hunt.

Thursday
Jan212016

Not All Hunters, Anglers Are Conservationists. Are You?

As anglers and hunters, we like to pat ourselves on our collective back about what great conservationists we are. We do that  because state fish and wildlife management is funded primarily by license fees and the excise taxes that we pay on the fishing and hunting equipment we buy. Those hundreds of millions of dollars annually benefit all species, not just those we like to catch and hunt.

But contributing to conservation is not the same as being a conservationist.

That realization came to me recently when I saw a post from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) on its Facebook page, thanking those whose comments "led to a vote to oppose the release of wolves in Colorado."

I also saw other comments that leave no doubt that many hunters want the elk for themselves.  Here's just one: "I hate wolves and I hate the people who love them, too."

Additionally, I saw  the above poster, explaining "why hunting is conservation."

No it's not. Hunters and anglers contribute to conservation. And, yes, some of them are conservationists, including me. I write about my conservation lifestyle in "I Am a Steward," an essay in Why We Fish.

Also, elk, bison, whitetail, and turkey all are thriving once again because of financial contributions made by hunters, through license fees, excise taxes, and great organizations like RMEF and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

But many hunters are not conservationists. They are hunters. Period. And, like selfish children, they don't want to share.

That's what prompted me to leave this comment on the RMEF Facebook page:

"RMEF has done great things to bring back the elk, and I am grateful for that. But I do wonder how large the elk population was long before 1907, before greedy commercial hunters nearly wiped them out, along with bison and wolves.

"And I am troubled by the anti-wolf rhetoric here. Those who want the elk back but not the wolves are not conservationists. Rather, they are not a whole lot different than those commercial hunters who didn't want to share either. They wanted all the elk for themselves.

"Wolves are just as much a part of the wilderness as elk and to deny them that place is not conservation. It's game management for the benefit of hunters, who, like other predator species, do not want competition.

"With proper management, we can have both species and a wilderness that once again is truly wild."

I don't want to leave anglers out of this sermon either.  Yes, many practice catch-and-release, and, most times, that's good conservation. But for some, it also leads to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. In other words, the logic goes, "If the fish swims away, then I've done my part."

Never mind that far too many fish die of delayed mortality because of mistreatment prior to release.

And whether you hunt or fish, you should leave the places you frequent better than how you found them if you call yourself a conservationist. Pack out not just your own trash, but that left behind by others.

Respect the land and water, as well as all of the fish and animals that live there, recognizing that each is a integral part of the natural system. Asian carp, Burmese pythons, and other harmful exotic species are notable exceptions. Introduced into  systems with no natural limits on their numbers, they destroy the balance, just as commercial hunters did more than a century ago.

Thursday
Jan072016

Florida'sTrophyCatch Numbers for Big Bass Continue to Grow

"TrophyCatch Season 3 ended on a very positive note, and Season 4 is off to an even better start, with peak fishing time right around the corner," according to the Florida Fish and Widllife Conservation Commission (FWC).

 TrophyCatch is the citizen-science program that allows FWC to collect data on largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds. In return, corporate partners reward anglers for properly documenting the catch with a photo of the entire bass (head to tail) on a scale with the weight showing, and releasing it.

During Season 3, the FWC verified 1,744 TrophyCatch bass, with more than 70 percent of the submissions being approved. The previous season, 993 bass heavier than 8 pounds were verified, which was about 60 percent of submissions. The first season, 185 were verified, which was less than 40 percent of submissions.

“This reflects an increasing awareness by anglers of the TrophyCatch program and how to document their catches, but also shows how prolific the trophy bass fishery is in Florida,” said KP Clements, director of TrophyCatch.

By going to TrophyCatchFlorida.com anglers can register, submit fish, and examine other catches from around the state. Just registering makes you eligible to win a $40,000 boat package. Ed Prather was the lucky winner of the third Phoenix Bass Boat given away by TrophyCatch. The boats are powered by Mercury and equipped with a PowerPole shallow-water anchoring. To be eligible for the random drawing at the end of Season 4, simply ensure you are registered and your information is up-to-date.

Data has shown FWC biologists that while there are hot lakes, like Kingsley Lake in Clay County (which has limited access to the military and homeowners), numerous catches come from small urban or rural ponds or even golf course ponds. Large popular public lakes like Istokpoga, Tohopekaliga, Okeechobee and Kissimmee provide equal opportunity for all anglers and are popular tourist destinations.

At TrophyCatchFlorida.com you can search for catches by county or water body to determine how your favorite area is doing or where to try next.

 Last season about 50 TrophyCatch bass were verified in December, which doubled to more than 100 in January, then increased to about 150 in February and peaked in March with almost 400 approved submissions. Trophy bass catches then declined through November before picking up again, in a typical annual cycle. Of course, this is keyed to the bass’ spawning cycle and anglers’ enthusiasm for finding bass during early spring.

March panned out very well for the 15 Hall of Fame winners from Season 3, who were honored in December at an event at Bass Pro Shops, Orlando. Those anglers caught, documented and released 17 bass over 13 pounds, five of which were caught in March. This included Seth Chapman, who earned the TrophyCatch championship ring, donated by the American Outdoors Fund, for a 15-pound, 11-ounce bass submitted from Kingsley Lake. The ring goes to the biggest verified bass of the season.

Porschia Gabrielse was the first angler with three Hall-of-Fame bass — a 13-, 14-, and 15-pounder — all from small Polk County ponds. She has contributed a total of 41 TrophyCatches to the program.

“TrophyCatch provides significant data to help manage our valuable, ensuring that Florida remains the ‘Fishing Capital of the World’,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.

Each Hall-of-Fame fish would be a state record in 28 states, and Florida has had 23 documented in three years. A 15-pounder exceeds the records in all but 12 other states.

To become a TrophyCatch winner yourself, catch, document and release a largemouth bass legally that is 8 pounds or heavier in Florida. To enter a trophy bass, take a photo of the entire bass on a scale with the weight visible, and release it alive. Being legal includes having a Florida freshwater fishing license or approved exemption, so make sure you are covered.

For more information , check out Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida, and YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida.