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UWSP study dispels myths of bass tournament fishing
By Kevin Naze

Press-Gazette correspondent

Tournament fishermen on Green Bay sometimes get a bad rap from non-competitive anglers for supposedly abusing bass in their quest for a big payday.

Even if more than 99 percent of those bass are returned alive and they have been for all 16 years of the Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament everyday fishermen against big-dollar events often claim that even if the bass swim away strongly, they're stressed and many die within hours or days of release.

Rumors of dead fish littering the bottom, supposedly seen by divers, or carcasses seen in the clear water of the Sturgeon Bay Flats in summer only adds fuel to controversy.

A study this week by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate students may end the speculation.

Two hundred bass caught, transported and weighed in the Open 100 each day were transferred to a holding pen in the waters of Little Sturgeon Bay at Wave Pointe Marina.

As of midweek, not one had died. Neither did any in a control group of 100 bass netted last week by the Department of Natural Resources. Those fish were released earlier this week after being held for five days. The tournament-hooked bass will be released today and tomorrow.

Apparently, smallmouth bass are pretty tough fish.

While hundreds of live bass were being weighed, then revived in aerated tanks Saturday and Sunday at Sturgeon Bay, many others caught by non-tournament anglers using live bait were being filleted nearby at the Sawyer Park fish cleaning station.

"I've seen it happen time and time again," said Sturgeon Bay guide and Sand Bay Beach Resort owner Dale Stroschein, a former touring walleye professional. "Those are the guys that are probably doing more damage than tournament fishermen."

Stroschein said the majority of people fishing competitively today understand the importance of taking care of the fish.

"Today's fisherman is not yesterday's fisherman," Stroschein said. "It's been pounded home so many times to baby those fish."

Boat manufacturers, too, understand this, he said, moving livewells to the transom area where the ride is the smoothest. Oxygenated livewells and manual pickups so fresh water can be added to the system when the boat is running are other innovations spawned from concern for the fish.

"They're basically in a water bubble, cushioned and protected as they ride," Stroschein said.

Stroschein said few people make money fishing. Most spend far more on fuel and equipment than they'll ever recoup in winnings.

"Tournament fishing is one of the few things that's left today that all ages can do and have fun," he said. "You see fathers and sons, husbands and wives, friends. The beauty of that is, people are out enjoying the resource."

Stroschein's resort business gives him an opportunity to see a number of the competitors later in the season.

"These guys don't want to do anything to harm the resource. They want to come back here with their families," he said.

Bass are not only abundant in Door County waters, they're big. After failing to crack even a 3-pound-per-fish average during the first six years of the Open, the winning weight has averaged near or more than 4 pounds seven of the past 10 years, including six straight.

Green Bay's Kurt Ditzman and Allan Jenkins had the fourth-best average in the 16-year history of the event over the weekend, including an opening-day catch averaging nearly 4 pounds per smallmouth.

The duo used tube jigs and other baits to coax strikes from fish guarding spawning beds in shallow water.

"You had to be stealthy," Ditzman said.