largemouth-bass-negativesmallmouth-bass-negativeby Bob Gwizdz

Inroduction: A great article that probably best explains the turnaround point for this issue with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division. The survey results were key the bass season moving forward.  The article is reprinted with permission from Bob Gwizdz and was previously printed in various Booth Newspapers and affiliates August 7, 2005. – Dan Kimmel

About a year ago, I rankled (to put it mildly) some of the state’s fisheries officials when I suggested they didn’t get it.

The topic was bass fishing regulations. Organized bass fishermen have long sought additional opportunity, most notably, a catch-and-release season prior to the regular Saturday-before-Memorial Day bass opener. Fisheries poohbahs offered a handful of alternatives, the bulk of which involved pushing the season opener back three or four weeks in return for preseason fishing opportunity.

But, the most off-the-wall recommendation was that anglers be allowed to fish for bass — either to harvest or just catch and release — from Jan. 1 to March 15.

It was that last recommendation that spawned my observation.

Well, the fisheries division subsequently sent out a lengthy questionnaire to licensed anglers to see what the hoi polloi thought about the recommendations. The results are in.

When asked if an ice fishing bass season would have any effect on days fished, 64 percent of non-tournament bass anglers and 71 percent of tournament bass anglers — the guys who asked for more bass fishing opportunity — said no.

This is not surprising. Most ice fishermen are harvesters — I can’t say I’ve ever met a catch-and-release ice fisherman — and something like 43 percent of respondents said they already released 100 percent of their legal bass. Another 13 percent said they released 90 percent or more of their legal bass.

(Keep in mind that while 52 percent of those who responded to the survey said they targeted bass at least one day in 2004, only 28 percent said bass was either the most or one of the most important types of fishing they did. So catch-and-release bass fishing has obviously caught on among the soft-core crowd, too.)

When asked if the 10 weeks of ice fishing season for bass was worth delaying the traditional bass opener, 25 percent of anglers approved, while 56 percent disapproved. Among bass tournament anglers, the numbers were more lopsided: 13 percent in favor, 78 percent against.

In addition, more than a third of respondents said they didn’t ice fish, period.

So, did the winter bass fishing proposal have any real-world merit?

Draw your own conclusions.

But, the rest of the fisheries division’s proposals seemed to hold little interest to either bass fishermen or anglers in general, either. Some 58 percent of anglers (61 percent of tournament anglers) did not want the traditional opening day changed.

As far as trading the opener for a catch-and-release season, only 26 percent of all anglers and 24 percent of tournament anglers approved. Some 56 percent of all anglers and 62 percent of tourney anglers disapproved.

But, when asked simply if they approved of a catch-and-release season on larger lakes — without the opening day rollback — 64 percent of all anglers and 78 percent of tournament anglers approved.

Conclusion? Anglers — hard-core bassers or otherwise — want catch-and-release bass fishing opportunity, but they don’t want to give up the traditional opener to get it.

Again, few should be surprised.

I’m certainly not. I have maintained for years that there is a trout orientation among fisheries officials — witness the phone book-sized trout regulations publication — despite its relative less significance to anglers than other species, such as, oh, I don’t know, bass?

My guess is there will be new proposals about preseason bass fishing soon. I’d wager, though not a lot, that the fisheries division will allow some sort of catch-and-release bass angling on some lakes while maintaining the traditional opener.

Why? Because fisheries officials saw the results of the survey. And seeing it in black and white, in organized columns, with numerical values, will help them do something that years of talk with bass anglers hasn’t.

It’ll help them get it.

Bob Gwizdz was a columnist for Booth Newspapers. He has since retired from there.