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Open Season Regulations: Protection or Over- protection?
by Eric Jex
In much of the upper Midwest we spend winter afternoons looking out the office window day dreaming of fishing our favorite spot on our favorite lake. Spring comes, your gear is all ready, boat is ready to go, you are fired up to get out there on the lake and lose yourself in the day; then you realize you are over 100 miles and months away from water you can legally fish bass. That is what many Minnesota and Wisconsin Bass anglers experience every spring. The point of this article will not be to slam the current regulations, rather to raise questions on the basis of them, and what should and should not be changed in my opinion. If nothing else I hope it generates discussion on the subject.
Why do these regulations exist? The most common answer is the most obvious, protecting spawning fish from being fished and caught off of their beds. While I am in favor of protecting these fish as much as possible and want generations to come to be able to enjoy the same good fishing I do, I think some of the current regulations are misguided.
The second most popular answer to this question involves
tradition. For example,
the earlier opening of bass season in Northeastern Minnesota is a
regulation that was originally created decades ago when harvest of the
over-populated Smallmouth bass in the region was encouraged.
This is now an extremely outdated regulation that does nothing
but hurt the credibility of the number one reason for having seasons.
Putting the spawn at the center of any closed season just doesnít work for me, as I stated earlier I believe itís a little misguided. There is just no good way to pick a certain date in May or June and say most or even half the bass in the affected area have spawned. This area ranges more than 500 miles from North to South and differs from 10,000 plus acre bodies of water to small lakes that closer resemble ponds. Not only are bass in different lakes in different part of the state spawning at different times, but different populations of bass in the same body of water may take a month or more to complete the spawning process.
Granted the larger, older, and healthier bass seem to hit the beds earlier than the younger, smaller crowd. However, I have caught what seem to be post spawn bass crappie fishing in early May. I have also caught above average bass that havenít spawned yet in mid-June. My point? Too many variables influence the spawning season in any region, I think the upper Mid-west region is even more affected by things like size of lakes, seasonal climates, and predators.
What about the affect of fishing and potentially (letís not get too confident!) catching spawning fish off their beds? This argument surfaces year after year when tournament schedules start during the spawning period in other regions of the country. I donít wish to go into great detail surrounding the arguments to this controversial topic. However I bring it up because it is critical to the open and closed season issue. I just donít believe the catch and immediate release of spawning bass puts the fish or the spawn in great jeopardy. Unless you are talking about the great lakes, most bass have few predators that have the ability to swarm in and consume the brood in a matter of a minute. If properly handled I think spawning bass go right back to their beds after being caught and hunker right back in. The key is ďproper handlingĒ of the fish, this is always the variable when it comes to catch and release, the spawning period is no different. I just havenít seen any credible and unbiased research that has convinced me one way or the other that catch and release seasons during the spawn negatively affects the population. In fact, the less scientific evidence I see that shows negative affects leads me to believe the affect on spawning bass is minimal. Or we would hear all about the evidence right??
I also want to spend a little time on when the harvest season
for bass should open. I
think the harvest date should be pushed back to late June at the
earliest in any upper Mid-west state.
Now I know not an overwhelming number of people go out and
target bass to throw in the frying pan.
However, I do believe a certain number of these fish fall
victim to the fish basket every year before they have completed the
spawning process. I think
this is a much larger threat to the future of bass populations. Personally I would like to see the harvest season shortened
and number of fish that can be held in possession lowered.
This is truly a step towards conservation of the species.
do I Suggest?
Finally, I would
like to see Minnesota catch up with the rest of the region and have a
more liberal catch and release season.
Let people enjoy fishing for bass as long as they can (the open
water season is short enough). Start a catch and release season April 1st or
April 15th, and have that season truly last through the
spawn. I firmly believe having a solid catch and release season
could effectively protect the fish, while at the same time support the
reason to protect the species Ė fishing enjoyment for generations to