Many in the industry recognize that B.A.S.S. played a pivotal role in the growth of recreational fishing as an economic powerhouse. But what most do not know is the important part played by the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) nearly 90 years ago.
If not for IWLA’s successful crusade to protect black bass from commercial harvest, it’s conceivable that largemouth and smallmouth populations would have been so depleted by the late 1960s that B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott would have stayed in the insurance business instead of founding his conservation and tournament fishing organization.
“That was an issue vitally important to our organization and sport fishing in general,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director of one of the nation’s oldest conservation organizations. “It ranks very, very highly in our list of accomplishments because it goes to the roots of our organization supporting conservation and outdoor recreation.
“We wanted to protect a resource that was under threat and being rapidly depleted.”
Meeting in Chicago in 1922, sportsmen concerned about the nation’s waters and wild places decided to form “a federation of fishing clubs” and name it after Izaak Walton, a 17th century fisherman/conservationist who wrote The Compleat Angler. Almost immediately, the goal became to protect outdoor America, as concern focused on how commercial harvest was depleting black bass populations.
By the late 19th century, market hunting had pushed some wildlife species to the brink of extinction. State laws couldn’t prevent overharvest because wildlife simply could be acquired in one state and shipped to another. Passage of the federal Lacey Act in 1900 stopped that trade, but it did nothing to protect fish.
Sounding the alarm, IWLA’s Outdoor America Magazine said this in its February 1926 issue:
“Scientists state that the yearly toll of black bass in this country is so great compared with the yearly hatch that this greatest of American game fishes is certain to become extinct within 10 years unless extraordinary efforts are made to protect it.”
In response to this threat, IWLA worked with Rep. Harry Hawes of Missouri to introduce into Congress the Black Bass Act of 1926, which was the fish equivalent of the Lacey Act. Speaking on behalf of the bill in the Senate, James Watson of Indiana said, “The bass is undoubtedly the great American game fish and the favorite of millions of the rank and file of American anglers. It is found all American fresh waters, ponds, lakes, and streams.”
And in its July 1926 issue of Outdoor America, the organization proudly proclaimed, “Great Waltonian measure becomes a law May 20.”
In concluding an article about the historic event, E.H.R. said, “This measure is perhaps the greatest ever passed in the interest of game fish.”
The Black Bass Act was expanded in 1947 to include all game fish and in 1952 to apply to all fish. In 1982, it was repealed, with its provisions incorporated into the Lacey Act, which protects fish, birds, and wildlife.