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Entries in tournament fishing (21)

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.

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.

Wednesday
Dec302015

Speed Trap . . . Slow Down

 

This blind worship at the altar of speed bleeds into every aspect of our lives, especially for our children. Because we’ve learned we don’t have to wait, we dart recklessly in and out of traffic, cutting in front of other cars so we can launch from a stoplight one second before they do. We have no patience for waiting in lines, common courtesy, or even listening.

That’s why the attention span of students grows progressively shorter. That’s why movies must contain explosions, car chases, and gun battles if they expect to succeed at the box office. That’s why print media are on the decline, and that’s also why participation in fishing flattened in some states and declined in others during the first decade of the 21st century.

Actually “wait” for a fish to bite? No thank you!

Tournament angling has helped keep the sport vital, through its emphasis on faster boats and the need to cover as much water as possible during the hours of competition. Anglers “burn” spinnerbaits. Tackle innovators create reels with higher and higher gear ratios to speed retrieves even more. ESPN and other cable networks glamorize fishing events with helicopter coverage and heart-pounding music.

Am I a tournament angler? No, I am not. Competitors must put their fish in the boat as quickly and efficiently as possible. I like to play with mine, to watch them jump and tail-walk and, yes, sometimes throw the bait. If anything, I am the un-tournament angler.

I certainly do recognize the many contributions tournament fishermen have made to the sport, ranging from boat and tackle innovations to creation of a vocal constituency that finances and promotes conservation of our natural resources. I am an ardent supporter of fishing tournaments and happy to share the water with them.

Still, I believe faster is not always the best way in fishing, and from that I’ve learned it isn’t always the best way in life either. Those who don’t see that miss out on the many pleasures of the journey, as they focus single-mindedly on the destination. We each have only a limited amount of time in this life. Why rush it?

Excerpt from the essay "Speed Trap . . . Slow Down" in Why We Fish: Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.

Thursday
Dec032015

Inside Story on Michigan Monster Bronzeback

Greg Gasiciel wasn't expecting much in the way of fishing success when he made the 90-minute drive up to Michigan's Hubbard Lake to partner with long-time friend Scott Somerfield in a club tournament on Oct. 18. He had fished the 8,850-acre lake in Alcona County just once before, and that was for walleye through the ice. Plus, weather in that northern portion of lower Michigan already was cold and blustery.

"I just wanted to spend the day with my friend," said Gasiciel, a pharmacist in Standish. "It didn't matter where we were fishing."

As it turned out, though, it did matter. Late in a day that featured temperatures in the 20s, wind, rain, and light snow, Gasiciel felt a "punch to the shoulder" of his tired and aching body as the largest smallmouth ever caught in Michigan grabbed his Yamamoto green grub.

On a certified scale, the monster bronzeback weighed 9.33 pounds and measured 24.5 inches in length, breaking a record that was more than a century old. In 1906, W.F. Shoemaker claimed the previous record with a 9.25-pound smallie that he caught in Cheboygan County's Long Lake.

Gasiciel was throwing the grub with a 7-foot Bass Pro Shops XTS baitcasting rod, a Shimano Citica reel, and 14-pound Trilene XL green monofilament line. "If I had been using spinning gear, I think that I'd still be fighting it," he said.

The big bass grabbed the grub as Gasiciel and Somerfield were fishing a deep flat. The pharmacist wouldn't reveal what type of retrieve he was using, how deep he was fishing, or where in the lake they were. "I'm doing that out of respect for my fishing partner," he said, explaining that his long-time friend fishes that area regularly, while he was just there as a guest.

Following the jolting hit, which suggests the Gasiciel might have been swimming the bait, the fish "went down and would not stop stripping line," he recalled. "It just kept digging. I couldn't turn it or do anything. It was kicking my butt."

Even after he tightened the drag, the smallmouth kept taking line.

Thinking that the fish  was just a good-size keeper, Somerfield put down his rod and went for the net.

"But I said that we have to go after this fish," Gasiciel said. "He told me to stop messing around."

Finally, they did go after it.

"Once we closed the distance and were more vertical, then I finally could bring the fish up. When he netted the fish, all I heard was 'Holy Cow!'

"Then he told me that I had the new state Michigan record, and there was this eerie silence. We were freezing, snot was frozen to our noses, and we both just stood there processing what had happened.

"Then we snapped three quick photos, put the fish in the livewell and went back to fishing. That's the tournament mindset."

At the weigh-in site, tournament officials help Gasiciel get the fish weighed on a certified scale, and then he contacted Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The next day, a biologist verified the size of the fish bass that the Michigan angler decided to mount.

That record fish was the only smallmouth Gasiciel caught that day and his partner managed just one, meaning they didn't finish among the leaders in the Bass Anglers of the Sunrise Side tournament.  "There were two or three limits," the pharmacist said. "But, hey, I got big bass."

"This is additional evidence that Michigan truly has world-class bass fisheries,” said Jim Dexter, fisheries chief for the  Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "Smallmouth bass is one of the most popular, most sought-after sportfish in North America. Even though the Michigan state record stood for more than 100 years, we're excited to see the bar set even higher for those who set out to land this iconic fish."

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

Monday
Oct122015

Minnesota Allows Culling for Mille Lacs Bass Tournaments

In hopes of attracting larger tournaments that will generate more  revenue for local economies, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) will allow culling of bass at Mille Lacs. It already is legal in other lakes around the state.

"This is one of the ways DNR is actively responding to the economic needs of the Mille Lacs Lake area," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "The change has potential economic benefits and will not hurt bass populations."

John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism, added, "Eliminating one of the hurdles to attracting more national bass fishing tournaments gives the Mille Lacs area another tool to draw national attention and help improve its economy."

The lake already is known nationally as one of the best bass fisheries, especially for smallmouths, with Bassmaster Magazine ranking it 10th in its top 100. But a regulation that forced competitors to keep their first six bass deterred tournament circuits, especially larger ones, from going there.

The rule restricting an angler to one bass of 18 inches or longer remains in effective. But now a tournament fisherman can cull smaller bass until he puts a limit in his livewell. Then he must stop fishing.

"A difference of only a few ounces often determines the winner of a bass tournament," MDNR said. "Having the ability to cull allows tournament anglers to keep the biggest fish that weigh the most."