Largemouth bassSmallmouth bassProposal Letter to the MDNR On an Early Bass Season in Michigan

Time for a Change for More Bass Fishing

by Dan Kimmel 4/8/2004


I am requesting a change in the Michigan bass fishing season (smallmouth and largemouth bass) to add additional bass fishing opportunity for licensed anglers on Michigan waters. The change I’m requesting is to allow legal catch-and-immediate-release bass fishing statewide including all Great Lakes and connecting waters from January 1 until the regular opening days for bass.

My request would exclude those few lakes with special, limited fishing seasons where all fishing for all species is closed such as Wakeley Lake or the Sylvania Wilderness Area as examples.


I’m a member of the Michigan B.A.S.S. Chapter Federation (MBCF) and an avid bass angler. I previously held the MBCF State Environmental Director position for 10 years from 1986 until 1996. During that time, I was intimately involved in developing the test catch-and-release bass season that started in 1989 and continues to this day on the six test lakes – Muskegon, Hardy, Holloway, Pontiac, Cass and Kent Lakes.

I’ve spoken at public meetings since 1984. I’ve written hundreds of letters to government agencies and representatives. I’ve spent a lot of time in meetings rooms, especially with MDNR employees and other fisheries personnel from across the country at local, state and national meetings. I’ve also been reading fisheries studies, and talking to biologists and researchers during that entire time.

I’m very familiar with issues related to the particular topic this letter covers. I spoke at the majority of the public meetings. I sat on most of the committee meetings and other related meetings with other groups besides our MBCF meetings when we worked with the MDNR to start the test bass season.


Based on a number of facts and data, I believe we know what we need to make a change like this to our Michigan bass season and have good expectations of the results based on existing and expected levels of fishing and bass populations. I strongly believe the main factors in this issue are more social than biological and that a substantial number of bass anglers now feel a completely closed bass season is not necessary to protect most bass populations in Michigan. This belief is supported by the large numbers of bass anglers who already participate in spring bass fishing as MDNR surveys have demonstrated. I have polled the MBCF member clubs for support of this proposed change. So far, 43 clubs have voted to support such a change as written above with no clubs voting against.

There are national and state data, and accepted practices to support this proposal. A compilation of some of this support follows:

  1. Very few states, of the 49 with freshwater bass, now have a statewide bass closure. Only 6 states have a statewide or near statewide closed bass season where you technically can’t legally fish for bass at all. They are Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, Wisconsin, New York and Vermont. Wisconsin, Maine, and Vermont have extensive legal catch-and-release or reduced creel seasons. New York has a later opener, but early May openers for catch-and-release on Lake Erie and the Finger Lakes. The other 42 states allow some type of legal bass fishing year-round statewide with a few exceptions on individual lakes and rivers/streams for various reasons.
    1. The trend lately has been to liberalize bass seasons and/or allow legal catch-and-release angling. Several Northern states have recently lengthened their bass seasons by adding early catch-and-release or reduced creel seasons. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are the major ones. I’ve talked to biologists from many of these states and get told pretty much the same thing: bass anglers want to fish and the available studies nationwide do not support the need for a closed bass season on the majority of the waters in our country.
    2. There are as many variations on how exactly the liberalized seasons are setup as there are states with them, but in talking to the state biologists, the common thread appears to be a combination of what many anglers seemed to want and what the biologists were willing to try, not necessarily what is supported by decades of available studies. If enough anglers want the additional fishing, the biologists have tended to acquiesce to those demands.
  2. The bulk of the existing studies and science does not support the need for a closed bass season on the majority of good bass waters. In state after state, local, district and state level fisheries biologists repeated this when I asked why they don’t have a closed bass season. You all read and review a lot of the same studies. I can see this for myself when I review the actual studies too. I have a pretty good collection of them in my possession. In Michigan, some of the waters that some biologists feel need more protection are the Northern smallmouth lakes, which have had little or no spawn protection under our present season for 30 years since the bass spawn after the Memorial weekend opener almost every single year when they can be legally fished for and harvested. Despite this, I can personally vouch that many of these lakes have even improved in the past 15 years despite more intelligent fishing pressure. Apparently, things like habitat changes, and water quality and clarity changes have overwhelmingly more to do with bass population success than angling pressure along with the propensity for the majority of dedicated bass anglers to release most of their catch.
  3. It is well known that a large number of bass anglers fishing Michigan waters do not honor our present bass season. They purposely practice catch-and-release spring bass fishing around the state. Our own catch-and-release study (91-6) demonstrates the probable extent of this practice and that it has been occurring significantly since at least the late 1980s. Inadvertent catches of spring bass have occurred for as long other species could be legally fished for on the same waters during the spring. Bass anglers are more knowledgeable and get around a lot more now than they used to. Despite this significant spring bass pressure, our bass fishing in Michigan has generally improved during that entire time including some dramatically better smallmouth fishing on many waters that seems to coincide with improving water clarity more than anything else.
    1. This past spring, I fished Hardy Dam in April. The smallmouth fishing was very good. We caught a lot of bass and a good number of quality bass. This was well before the spawn. The lake had large numbers of bass anglers there that day. I’m told that is normal every weekend there in the spring. Hardy has been open to legal spring catch-and-release bass fishing for 15 years. It’s pretty hard to convince intelligent bass anglers that they shouldn’t be fishing for spring bass and spawning bass, especially smallmouths, when they can see for themselves that despite all the dire warnings from conservative biologists not only has the fishing – it has actually gotten better on many lakes. We are seeing some of the best smallmouth fishing ever the past 10 years.
  4. Bass are the number one sought fish in the nation and the number one sport fish in Michigan after panfish according to 2001 US Fish & Wildlife angler survey statistics despite all the varieties of fishing we have available to us. The largest fishing organization in the world is the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS). The large number of bass clubs and the increasing participation in bass tournaments demonstrate the great popularity of bass fishing. No one should be surprised that there is a great deal of interest in increased bass fishing opportunities. Michigan’s short bass season forces these anglers to decide to disregard the regulations and target bass in the spring illegally or cram that much more effort into our short summer when lakes are most crowded. Or to leave Michigan to fish in surrounding states that do not have a closed bass season, taking their dollars out of Michigan to states that don’t necessarily have the vast fishing resources we do.
    1. Frequent bass anglers are big spenders. MBCF studies have shown the direct impact of a state tournament runs $75,000 to well over $100,000 to the local economy. Even though we would not be able to have large tournaments during a catch-and-release season, the dollars are staggering that would be kept and/or gained for the Michigan economy. It is estimated that nationally, 60% of freshwater dollars are spent on bass fishing. A recent Minnesota DNR study showed that the average angler spent over $1,000 per year on fishing. But the less than 1,000 MN BASS Federation members accounted for 4 to 6 times that average each per year. Dedicated bass anglers pump a lot of money into the economy.
  5. I’ve said for years that our resource management involves too much social management. I understand why and how this happens, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t other choices that are more preferable and attainable. I received permission from the Minnesota DNR to quote some of the information from their website which supports what so many biologists told me when I asked them why they don’t have a closed bass season. I’m required to fully cite the specific sources for each quote, and provide a caveat that rules and management techniques may change and people should consult the Minnesota DNR Website at ( or call the Information Center at (888) MINNDNR for the most up-to-date information.
  6. From on bass management:Largemouth, Habitat Protection

    “Largemouth are adaptable and prolific. They live and successfully spawn in a variety of conditions. Being very prolific, only a few bass are required to populate a large body of water. Consequently, stocking plays a very small role in largemouth management. It is usually limited to circumstances where largemouth are being introduced to newly filled basins, winter kill lakes or chemically “rehabilitated” waters.”

    What is important in managing the largemouth is the protection of its habitat. Specifically, the largemouth needs the following if it is to flourish:

    Spawning areas with a firm bottom of sand, mud or gravel;

    Beds of rooted aquatic weeds or other heavy cover, such as logs, to provide protection for fry and fingerlings, and cover and ambush sites for adults.

    Adequate dissolved oxygen, particularly during the winter.”

    “Smallmouth Bass Management, Habitat

    As with the largemouth, the best smallmouth management is the protection of its habitat.”

    1. The smallmouth part continues to detail problems with acid rain on some lakes and the common problem for many states of pollution of rivers and streams that are adversely affecting smallmouth populations in those types of waters – rivers and streams. The point is that this is an issue with soil erosion, extreme water level fluctuations, poor sewage treatment, non-point source pollution, wetlands degradation, farm runoff and livestock effects, not fishing. Fishing is an easier regulation target and sometimes more conservative regulations are used in an effort to try to make up for the real problems.
    2. An interesting topic is to ask a selection of fisheries biologist from Northern and Southern states about how successful using bass fishing regulations to compensate for Mother Nature and Man’s affect on the environment are over time. I can’t think of almost any really good improvements in a fishery, other than very small ones, that have come directly as the result of fishing regulations that limit bass fishing in the last 20 years. All of the notable ones I can think of have resulted from natural and/or manmade habitat changes on the lake like major dredging; better aquatic plant management; major water level changes; and water quality improvements like the Clean Water Act and possibly the effect of zebra mussels and other exotics also.
    3. Catch-and-release fishing’s popularity has probably had a positive impact on the quality of some bass fisheries, but cycles in the fish populations still occur that can’t be tied to any change in fishing pressure or fisheries regulations. This alone demonstrates to me and many other anglers that in many healthy fisheries, whether we fish or not, major changes in the bass population will occur based on the environment and natural conditions over time. If the habitat and water quality are taken care of, the fisheries will generally be good to excellent most years under common angler practices.
    4. For bass, unless the number of anglers dramatically increases and catch-and-release’s popularity drastically sinks, most good fisheries will continue to be good most years – largemouth AND smallmouth. All indications are that bass angler numbers will not dramatically increase in Michigan and catch-and-release is still gaining in popularity. I believe no one should ‘manage’ fisheries for what might happen in the future.
  7. From on bass biology:


    “After spawning, the female moves off into deep water and does not feed for a couple of weeks. The male guards the nest until the eggs hatch and mature into a swarm of black fry. During this time, the male strikes savagely at intruding fish (or lures) but does not eat. It may even carry intruders and objects from the nest but then ejects them. When the fry reach an inch in length, they leave the nest. Then the male resumes feeding and in fact may eat any young bass he encounters.

    Largely because of the male’s fastidiousness in building and guarding the nest, many fry survive, and a few adult bass can quickly populate new waters. In fact, researchers have found no correlation between the number of spawning bass and the subsequent number of young-of-the-year fish. The success of the spawn depends entirely on good spawning areas and stable weather. A severe cold front, for example, may cause the male to desert the nest. Then the eggs or fry can be eaten by other fish.”

    1. Some people say that fishing pressure is similar to the effects of the environment, but fishing pressure will rarely affect every bedding bass in larger lakes – also supported by studies. Only a few studies have shown a large percentage of the bass caught over a short time period. These have pretty much all been dones on smaller inland lakes and/or infertile far North lakes with low bass densities. On most US waters bass spawn over an extended time period and varied depths. Regardless, no study has shown even if a high percentage of the bass where caught an actual demonstrable drop in the adult bass population occurred because of this fishing (again for largemouth or smallmouth) – while weather and adverse natural conditions can affect a large percentage of bedding bass. That is a key difference in deciding whether or not regulating fishing during the bass spawn (or ANY other period some consider bass to be extra vulnerable in) is truly necessary in the end or at least to what degree it is regulated.
  8. Also, from on bass biology:


    “In the spring bass disperse to their spawning areas in gravelly shallows of lakes or large, gentle eddies in streams. The male builds the nest. The female lays 2,000 to 10,000 eggs and then heads for deep water. The male remains on the nest two weeks or more, guarding eggs and fry.

            As with the largemouth, research on smallmouth has shown no relationship between the number of spawning fish and the success of the spawn. The strength of the year class depends solely on water conditions – in particular, the absence of a sudden cold snap or muddy floodwaters that can kill eggs and fry.”

    1. And again, from a Northern state with a closed season, repeating other Northern and Southern states are saying – the success of the yearly spawn does not rely on the absence of fishing pressure, but weather and water conditions. There is no research that has shown a direct link between spawning and recruitment. There is no research that has shown that fishing during the spawn harms the overall bass population over time. In studies from Florida and Ontario, despite intense pressure on spawning largemouth and smallmouth respectively, enough fry were observed later in the same areas to demonstrate some bass were successful anyway in spawning.
    2. There are studies looking at largemouth genetic effects possibly due to bed-fishing, but I haven’t seen a general widespread acceptance that this is a significant concern to bass populations. I will continue to look at this information because I do care.
  9. Despite this, anglers will sometimes pressure their fisheries people to protect bass spawns (social management) because of all the baggage we carry, especially in the North, that deals with the supposed need to protect the bass spawn (we can’t shoot does either) – mostly old reasons, but now even a new excuse. Example is the push suddenly in Ohio to close Lake Erie in May and June to instant release fishing only because of gobies even though the ongoing study on smallmouth bass spawning is only in its second year and biologists at the Sandusky Research Unit told me it would be 4 to 5 years before they would have any meaningful results to consider on impacts to the numbers of keeper bass in the population. Yet, because of all the talk about gobies, some anglers are ready to act now ‘before it’s too late’ even though gobies have been here for years, in Ohio there has been no closed season at all and the bass fishing is some of the best in the world. There is no evidence, nor a marked decrease in fishing success to support this stance, yet the change is rammed through based on preliminary data that doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know: “catching an individual bass may be bad for it!” No kidding? But how does that relate to the bass population, I would ask? The answer would of course be, “we don’t know yet” because they haven’t finished the only study even being done in a scientifically meaningful manner.
    1. A good example of an intelligent response to anglers requests that aren’t scientifically supported is this from the Massachusetts fisheries from an article in The Standard Times, SouthCoast TODAY, New Bedford, MA article 11-11-01, Biologists say thanks, but no thanks to bass conservation effort – reported that MassWildlife fisheries biologists opposed a measure by a group to create a statewide 30-day catch-and-release season during the bass spawn. “It would be unnecessary because after 10 years of intensive bass surveys, the majority of our bass waters are in great shape.”Wonderful that they had the studies, but they could just as easily say that there are no indications from any real data that the fisheries are in any trouble because of it and that the history of existing studies for most US waters don’t support a need for this type of protection.
    2. I don’t believe any of us should be too quick to give away fishing rights without real good reasons. There are too many people who would like to take away our rights altogether. Being a tournament angler, it could be just an attempt to limit one way I enjoy fishing for bass. There are other ways to manage tournaments. I am also very concerned that these kinds of restrictions contribute to the drop in the number of persons who choose to fish, which is bad for all of us. Why should I spend all the money I do on fishing if my ability to do so keeps getting reduced?
  10. Which brings me to one of the topics of the moment: Mark Ridgway. Suddenly, people are using his name a lot. He’s one of the latest reasons a few biologists and anglers are using to say we need to have a closed season in Northern states especially for smallmouth bass. I talked to Mark Ridgway for a while about his studies to find out first hand what he has accomplished.
    1. First off, he seems like a reasonable person who cares about the resource. He flat out told me he is trying to show that there is a direct connection between the spawn and recruitment despite admitting that most biologists and anglers don’t believe that. Mark told me that he does not want a bunch of angry anglers or, especially, other fisheries biologists calling him, so he asked I don’t quote him publicly. I will try to honor that by referring to what I have read from his studies and other sources about them. So, since his studies are being referred to often as proof we need closed seasons during the spawn – at least for smallmouths, let’s look at what he has proved so for? He’s proved that individual smallmouth bass beds may be harmed if the bass is caught by an angler. Okay. So if the years of pre-existing data are right and, as has been accepted my most biologists for decades, there is no scientific correlation between the number of spawning bass and bass recruitment, then he hasn’t changed what we already know, which is that the harming of individual bass beds is not a concern for the overall population of most waters.
    2. He’s also shown that we generally can’t say seasons do too much for bass populations because the openers are usually fixed while the spawn is a variable occurrence. Again, many biologists I’ve talked to stated this as another reason they don’t feel a closed bass season is necessary.
    3. It’s one thing to want to show something and another thing entirely to actually show it. I’m completely in favor of good research, but a proposal isn’t an outcome. I’ve seen proposals for studies often cited as reasons we need this or that.
    4. Interesting to me most about Ridgway’s studies is that people in conservative management areas are using his spawning studies often and claiming conclusions the studies have not reached, but none of these same people are referring to his studies on bass tournaments that are favorable to those anglers even though they won’t hesitate to mention tournaments as an ‘extra concern when held during the spawn’ again, despite no studies actually showing a real impact on the bass population. It’s just assumed, I guess, based on proposals.
  11. Another common reason I’m given by a few biologists on why we need a closed bass season in Michigan is our Northern location and colder climate with its shorter growing season. One biologist recently told me I didn’t understand because we only have 150 days above the frost line. Of course, I understand some of our bass don’t grow as fast as some Southern bass, but this is again an oversimplification of the overall topic, isn’t it?
    1. Since Lake St. Clair smallmouths are a focal point for so much of this issue, I like to use that as an example for comparison. I’ve asked three different present and past MDNR fisheries biologists how long it takes to get a keeper smallmouth on Lake St. Clair and the answer was consistently as short as three years to as long as five, but generally four years. How do you think that compares to Southern smallmouth ranges like Tennessee, Kentucky and Northern Alabama? Well, it’s pretty much the same according to biologists I talked to from various regions of those states. That tells me that growth rates in bass are the result of several factors, not just average length of growing season AND that St. Clair has excellent growth rates comparable to some Southern waters. The MDNR Fisheries Research Report (FRR) No. 1944 found that“Anchor Bay smallmouth grow at a faster rate than a North American average compiled from many populations.”
    2. Factors such as the type of lake, habitat and available forage are also very important to bass growth and we happen to have many waters with good to excellent growth rates despite a shorter growing season. My response therefore to someone who tells me that we have to have a closed bass season because we have a shorter growing season is that if growth rates on some of our waters are comparable to Southern waters, why can’t those waters have seasons similar to the Southern seasons? I realize there are other factors such as biomass and I’m not trying to completely oversimplify this topic the other way, just point out that their arguments have obvious weaknesses.
  12. After Ridgway’s studies, and possibly cited more often as to why we can’t change the bass season, particularly on Lake St. Clair, is the goby issue. As mentioned above ‘the gobies will eat all the bass eggs while the bass is being caught’ they say Some of the obvious weaknesses this claim has are that gobies have been in Lake St. Clair since at least 1990 and yet the smallmouth bass fishing the past five years has been the best I’ve ever seen on St. Clair by far in numbers and size despite moderate to heavy spring bass fishing going on that entire time on St. Clair. In fact, the MDNR’s own bass recruitment estimates show 1998 has a particularly strong year class even though that was one of the heaviest spring fishing pressure years. Apparently, a long period of stable warm weather is more important to spawning success. Much has been made about showing how a bed can be raided by gobies when the male bass is removed, yet this ignores completely the accepted majority belief that there is no correlation between the number of spawning bass and recruitment because of the bass’ prolific spawning productivity and studies that show anglers can rarely catch all spawning bass except on small or low density lakes.
    1. It ignores obvious references in multiple states’ publications and studies that weather and water conditions will dictate the success of the spawn, not fishing.
    2. It also ignores the most obvious issue, that gobies have not been shown by anyone to have that large an affect on bass populations even after five to thirteen years in the Great Lakes; That bass populations have increased in many areas over that time.
    3. Despite gobies presence and all the spring bass fishing (incidental catches or purposeful), one biologist told me we have had some of largest year classes ever in general over the past 10 years in the Great Lakes region. There is only one structured study actually looking at the interaction between gobies and spawn fishing for Great Lakes smallmouths at all as part of a larger look at reproductive issues of Western Lake Erie smallmouths comparing them to Lake Opeongo (Canada shield lake) smallmouth, and it is still in its initial stages.
    4. As I mentioned, I talked to Ohio Fisheries biologists at the Sandusky Bay Research Unit about the study and was told it would be 4 to 5 years before they would actually know if the bass population could be shown to be effected by fishing spawning bass with gobies present in large numbers. And that the only way they will really be able to attempt this is to do extensive creel surveys of anglers down the road since young of year (YOY) smallmouths are extremely difficult to study on Lake Erie.
    5. Of course, I can tell you that Ohio Lake Erie smallmouth fishing is very, very good. The gobies have been there for a long time in conjunction with Ohio’s year-round catch-and-kill season on bass with steady spring bass tournament pressure. The winning weights and catch-rates in those tournaments throughout this entire time have been consistently near the best in the nation, and in the spring anglers can only fish Ohio waters of Lake Erie. Large tournament circuits have set national catch records fishing Lake Erie out of Ohio.
    6. Ohio biologists believe Western Lake Erie gobies have really become abundant since 1998. They are concerned enough to actually look at the issue with a structured study in case it turns out to be a long-term problem. I can respect that. When I asked two different Ohio Fisheries biologists why they don’t have a closed bass season, the answer was similar to many others, “We do not like to tell people they can’t fish” and“there are no studies to show this is necessary. We argue that most states with seasons have seasons for social reasons, not biological.”
  13. Another topic that has been used for why we need to be much more concerned for smallmouths, when pressed, is information in our own spring study MDNR FTR 91-6, that simply says, “Smallmouth bass should be of greater concern than largemouth bass.” (pg. 11) Why? Because despite catch rates for bass of all sizes being “higher during the normal season than during the early season in three out of five comparisons… for smallmouth bass, which were more abundant on Muskegon Lake than any other study lake, catch rates were slightly higher during the early season; this suggests that they may be slightly more vulnerable than largemouth bass during the spring.” (pg 8) An awful lot has been made out of this small part of the study. Is the difference significant statistically? Is the difference enough to make a negative impact on the smallmouth population of Muskegon Lake? Neither of these questions is addressed in the study.
    1. For smallmouths greater than 12 inches in length on Muskegon, the early season catch rate was .31 bass per angler hour while the regular season catch rate was .25 so we’re talking about a difference of .06! Doesn’t sound too significant to me. There was a greater difference for the undersized bass less than 12 inches of .48 to .15, but that still works out to only 2.64 more undersized bass per an 8 hour day – 1.2 summer dinks verses 3.84 spring dinks total; and 2 keepers verses 2.48 keepers. Hardly seems like the end of smallmouth fishing as we know it.
  14. Another point about Lake St. Clair – since it is a hot bed of debate – in an official 1987 MDNR study, one of the main findings was that there was no scientific support for Lake St. Clair needing any more spawn protection than any other water in Michigan; There was no support for Lake St. Clair needing a later opening bass season date. If a lake can be shown to need special management through scientifically valid means, anglers should support that. Recent data released on estimated young of year numbers of bass, estimated numbers of catchable bass and estimated numbers of bass actually creeled clearly show a very healthy lake, with consistently successful spawns and a very low creel rate. This is the text from MDNR FRR# 1944: “The most effective means of increasing yield, at least short-term, would involve changing the (St. Clair Detroit River system) bass season, which does not open until the third Saturday in June, 4 weeks later than anywhere else in Michigan. The late season opening unquestionable deletes the most effective period of bass exploitation. There is no scientific basis for deciding that Lake St. Clair bass need more spawning season protection than populations anywhere else in Michigan. Returning Lake St. Clair to the regular May 15 opener would be beneficial by making regulations uniform statewide. However, the present bass season opening is close to the season opener for Ontario waters of Lake St. Clair.”
    1. The next paragraph states the MDNR researchers however recommend no change in the regulations at that time “because of a general lack of public sentiment to alter their management.” In other words, if they think most anglers don’t want the change they won’t do it. I believe the sentiment has shifted fairly strong the other way since that time and Michigan studies support this by showing a large number of anglers in favor of increased legal catch-and-release opportunities (FTR 2001-2, FTR 89-2, FTR 91-6 to name a few).
  15. A recent, new explanation as to why our own specific study, 91-6, is not really valid for allowing spring catch-and-release bass fishing (let alone all the other studies in Michigan and other places, I guess) is that riverine/reservoirs were chosen because they would have spawning that bass anglers supposedly can’t get to. Recruitment would come from far upstream or over dams.
    1. First of all, that ignores all the studies that say this isn’t a factor anyway. It ignores the persistence of many of the over 400,000 Michigan bass anglers AND a big one – I was intimately involved in picking the lakes. We had a number of regular inland lakes on the original list of test lakes. Unfortunately, mainly from lake association members who are organized and vocal on many regular inland lakes, we were hammered so hard at public meetings we had around these lakes individually, that they were all removed from the test to minimize controversy. The lakes left on the test were those were little or no local opposition was shown from locals who just don’t want more of anyone on ‘their’ lakes. I’m confident, since I’ve talked to them, that the well-respected Michigan research biologists who performed these studies, do not believe they are invalid.


My goal here is not to discredit the MDNR or specific biologists in the MDNR, but to demonstrate where there are valid, scientifically supported issues; where there aren’t; and what might really be the motivation for some of the things being said. I will not hesitate to demonstrate when any MDNR employee clearly distorts known studies and/or presents his or her own personal beliefs as something that should be taken as fact because he or she is a biologist – such as when one biologist told me he is saying we need to keep a closed spring bass season on St. Clair bass to keep numbers artificially high so bass can eat more gobies – this despite the fact that a study from that same office previously stated that bass don’t eat gobies or other exotics. Publicly, he was claiming to be against the change in the closed season because of gobies eating bass eggs.

Besides the contradiction above, he initially told me he was actually against the change because he just felt it was an attempt to have more bass tournaments and why change it since we were doing it anyway and “not getting tickets.”

Our test lakes have been fished now legally 15 seasons with no change in the regulations despite study results in 1992 saying additional lakes could be added. I believe it’s well past time to make a change that many bass anglers quit waiting for some time ago. It’s time to give more fishing opportunity to Michigan’s bass anglers.

I finish with this quote – a warning – from the November 2003 BASS TIMES article interview with Jim Martin, new conservation director of Pure Fishing and former fisheries chief of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife:

“BASS TIMES: What do you view as the biggest challenge in uniting and/or balancing state fisheries management objectives with the needs of recreational anglers?

Martin: Overzealous regulations indoctrinated by young fisheries biologists working up the ranks of their respective agencies are becoming an alarming trend. These budding professionals mean well but don’t realize they are also restricting our opportunities to fish and hunt. The net result is loss of license sales and ultimately their mechanism for funding conservation. Some of these young biologists are oblivious to the fact that anglers are their eyes and ears in the field and are willing partners with them to improve habitat and preserve fish populations if given the chance.”

Martin goes on to finish his answer:

“BASS members need to develop friendships with with these young professionals, many of whom were never exposed to fishing as youths. Only by partnering effectively with them will they be able to understand the social, economic and conservation benefits of recreational fishing.”

This is part of my similar concern that in Michigan, our regulations are based on too-conservative management, partly out of fear of a backlash from a fishing public that is perceived as not understanding real cause and effect in fish populations. That’s probably why FTR 91-6 ends by saying, “Fisheries Division policy on bass seasons should be reevaluated. Both biological and sociological factors should be considered.”

I’ve always tried to partner with the MDNR in the past when they’d let me. I’ve also put a fair amount of effort into educating the general public about the research and what it says by posting the results and posting what biologists have told me and speaking about these topics in public forums. I’ve tried to make it easier for fisheries biologists to actually use scientific management. I’ve offered to be a conduit between the MDNR and bass anglers, especially bass tournament anglers, to share valuable information. I’ve had some success with this. The MDNR’s ‘arms-length’ policy about tournaments have made things less productive as they could have been.

I’d like to finish by summarizing these thoughts.

  • A very large number of anglers do not and will not believe that protecting spring bass in Michigan is necessary. They have stated in the MDNR’s own studies that they will continue to fish for bass in the spring and often will continue to do so on their normal lakes, not just the 6 test lakes.
  • If gobies were going to combine with spring bass fishing to collapse populations, we’d know by now just from the time gobies have been here and from how many anglers have readily admitted they spring bass fish on top of the long-term inadvertent catch of spring bass because other species can be legally fished on the same waters with tactics that catch bass.
  • Pressure on the 6 test lakes is increasing though, partially because of a divisive public backlash from some anglers who will never believe that the other 42 states are right about not needing a closed bass season, forcing some anglers to feel they need to be ‘legal.’ The high demand for spring fishing is combining with this pressure to create a potential problem.
  • When has fishing ever been good for the individual bass? I don’t view being caught any time of the year as being a positive outcome for an individual bass. Why should I feel any more guilty about catching that bass any one time of the year over the other? I have guys telling us bed-fishing is unethical. And guys saying fishing for smallmouths in their so-called wintering areas is taking too much advantage of them. Why stop there? PETA says I shouldn’t ever be catching them. Where should I stop? Who should I believe? I can see this ‘movement’ only ending up with one conclusion and that is that we all feel so guilty about catching a bass that we just quit fishing altogether. You can think this is an exaggeration, but answer this for me: are the numbers of overall anglers going up or down? Is the MDNR’s funding going up or down?

I respect the fish I catch as much as anyone I’ve ever met. I have met anglers who claim their method of fishing is more sporting and therefore more respectful; or their ethical beliefs prove they are better sportsmen. I’ve read about them too – a lot recently. I think the real difference is in what you honestly see with your own observations and match with a real effort to educate yourself through studies and biologists so you can make informed choices and support the best management for the resource while actually being able to enjoy it. I see some of these ‘more’ ethical guys say they can cite studies to support their ‘higher’ principles, but I’ve actually read the studies and talked to the researchers. The actual results don’t support their claims.

This doesn’t mean I, and anglers like me feel you should be able to catch as many bass any way we want. Just that we will not give up fishing opportunity just because some anglers aren’t comfortable with it. I respect their opinions and ethics even though they often don’t respect mine. I actually realize there are some lakes they may need more protection due to infertility, low bass density combined with large populations of stunted bluegills, or possibly other factors, but I also believe that there are many more healthy lakes in Michigan than these types of lakes. Studies done to the North don’t apply to most of our healthy bass lakes. This is fairly easy to demonstrate. It’s fairly easy to demonstrate that many of our lakes that would seem to need more protection haven’t really had it either for the last 20 to 30 years due to factors covered above.

That last statement leads into making something clear ahead of time. There’s talk that some in the MDNR think they must take away something to give something. I’m really confident that bass anglers who want the preseason catch-and-release season will not be happy with this. This will be viewed as taking away more opportunity as a whole. It’s a lose-lose idea since it’s easy to show that most of the Northern lakes are as good bass fishing as ever despite not having spawn protection for 30 years. Many bass anglers will want to know why the lakes suddenly need the protection of a July opener. There will be anglers who don’t like the change because they like to harvest some bass too and use the holiday weekend to do so. I have nothing against them either. They’ve been doing this for a long time.

For some of the same reasons I’ve stated above about ensuring that our future fishing rights don’t continue to contribute to a decrease in fishing participation, I believe it is very important we don’t give up any additional large-scale rights to harvest some bass. Our present open season is acceptable with anglers who like to harvest and also not long enough to damage our bass populations.

It’s also obvious that tournaments are increasingly popular in Michigan and already pushed into a very short season. They will not be receptive to losing a large portion of the state for another 5 or 6 weeks when there isn’t any new reason this should be done. Does anyone truly believe pitting tournament anglers against non-tournament anglers anymore, causing more potential division, to be a good thing for the future of fishing? One of my top concerns for all of hunting and fishing is the negative effort put into fighting amongst ourselves verses putting the same energy into the real challenges to hunting and fishing.

This request is for legal catch-and-release bass fishing from January 1 until regular opening days on Michigan waters. The goal is to legitimize what so many bass anglers are already doing; to ensure the bass fishing pressure is spread out on as many different waters as possible; and to maximize the bass fishing opportunity for bass anglers in Michigan. The data is already available from across the country AND from within Michigan. It’s time to finish the process that was started way back in 1987.


Dan Kimmel


Main Party

Kurt Newman, Lake Erie Basin Coordinator, MDNR Fisheries Division

Kelley Smith, Chief MDNR Fisheries Division
Jim Dexter, Acting Chief MDNR Fisheries Division
Gary Towns, Fisheries Biologist – Livonia
Ron Spitler, MBCF State Environmental Director
Noreen Clough BASS National Conservation Director
Chris Horton, BASS National Conservation Manager
Ron St. Germain, Lansing State Journal Outdoor Editor
Bob Gwizdz, Booth Newspaper Outdoor Editor
Bill Parker, Michigan Outdoor News Editor
Eric Price, Detroit Free Press Sports Writer
Roger Beukema, Oakland Press Outdoors
Bob Bauer, 97.1 FM Outdoors
Louie Stout, South Bend Tribune Outdoors
Steve Quinn, In-Fisherman


Mark Ridgway, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources research scientist
John Navarro, Ohio DNR Fisheries
Roger Knight, Ohio DNR Sandusky Fish Research Unit fisheries biologist
Ron Spitler, MDNR Fisheries biologist- retired /MBCF Conservation Director
Bob Haas, MDNR Mt. Clemens Fisheries Research Station
Mike Thomas, MDNR Mt. Clemens Fisheries Research Station
Jim Schneider, MDNR Institute of Fisheries Research- retired
Stuart Shipman, Indiana DNR Fisheries
Bob Lorantis, Pennsylvania Bureau of Fisheries biologist
Nick Nichols, Assistant Chief Technical, Alabama Fisheries Section
Frank Fiss, Tennessee Fisheries Management Division biologist
Bonny Laflin, Tennessee Fisheries Management Division biologist
Vern Wagner, Minnesota BASS Federation Conservation Director
Charles Anderson, Minnesota DNR Fisheries biologist
Steve Hirsch, Minnesota DNR Fisheries biologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1996 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation – Michigan
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1996 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation – Michigan
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service , Black Bass Fishing in the U.S., Addendum to the 1996 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation
Estimating Angling Effort and Catch from
MDNR Fisheries Research Report 2044, Michigan Roving and Access Site Angler Survey Data, January 31, 1999
MDNR Fisheries Technical Report 2001-2, December 2001, Evaluation of Catch-and-Release Regulations at Wakeley Lake, 1987-97
MDNR Fisheries Research Report 1944, January 19, 1988, Distribution and Population Dynamics of Smallmouth Bass in Anchor Bay, Lake St. Clair
MDNR Fisheries Technical Report 89-2, April 7, 1989, First-Year Results of Early-Season Catch-and-Release Bass Fishing
MDNR Fisheries Technical Report 91-6, August 15, 1991, Results of Early Season, Catch-and-Release Bass Fishing at Six Lakes
Lake St. Clair Smallmouth Bass Update, 2003, Mt. Clemens Fisheries Research Station
Initial Mortality in New Hampshire Black Bass Fishing Tournaments, 1997-2001, October 2002, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department
Lake of the Woods Bass Fishery: A Case Study, NWST Technical Report TR-115, March 1998
MDNR Fisheries Technical Report 96-2, April 30, 1997, Diet of the Round Goby in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair, 1993
Minnesota DNR Fisheries website resources:
Fishing Guides and Regulations review from 33 states including all Northern states coast to coast
Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 127:729–739, 1998, Application of Stable Isotope Techniques to Trophic Studies of Age-0 Smallmouth Bass, VANDER ZANDEN, HULSHOF, and RIDGWAY
The Standard Times, SouthCoast TODAY, New Bedford, MA article 11-11-01, Biologists say thanks, but no thanks to bass conservation effort

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