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Bass tournament is justified, despite spawn questions*

by Dan Kimmel

In response to a letter from Mr. Ferrari: I was a participant in the Michigan BASS Chapter Federation (MBCF) tournaments on the chain of lakes June 7 and 8.

First, where we stand legally. Once our bass season opens Memorial weekend, all licensed anglers have an equal right to fish on public waters. Organized tournaments are required to get an MDNR permit when launched from an MDNR boat ramp. There are no regulations to prevent tournaments if they launch out of a non-MDNR ramp.

Bass tournament anglers are under no obligation to release bass we catch. We could each legally keep 5 keeper bass. We voluntarily release all bass in our tournaments. We are actually penalized for dead bass. We have voluntarily chosen to limit each two-person team to five bass. In essence, we’ve reduced our impact by 50% since each team could possess 10 keeper bass. This meets our needs while lowering our impact on the bass populations because we do care.

Despite studies showing minimal impact, bass tournaments are often perceived as having greater impact because they are so visible. Rarely do all participants catch a limit. Catch rates in bass tournaments are often lower than catch rates of non-tournament anglers. Spawning tournaments in clear water are a good example why. Tournament anglers who can see the size of a bass will usually only attempt to catch a bass that appears larger than what they already have.

Bass survival rates are higher in the early and late parts of the season too. Holding tournaments during cooler water periods is actually a recommendation to minimize tournament catch mortality. We have a slightly higher release rate, very close to 100%, in the spring and fall verses our mid to high 90% range during the summer.

Our present opening bass season was set about 30 years ago. Even though the MDNR states our closed bass season is necessary to protect the bass spawn, a majority of Northern Michigan bass spawn after the season opens.

The reality is 42 states do not have a closed bass season. Only 3 states have a statewide closed spring season where it is technically illegal to even attempt to catch bass. The reason 46 states allow spring bass fishing: There are no studies that show a closed bass season is necessary to protect most bass populations.

Bass produce many more young than necessary each year. A few adult bass can easily populate a large lake. Studies actually show there is no relation between the number of bass that spawn and the resulting number of young-of-year bass produced. Most fisheries biologists accept this fact. That is why you won’t see limits on holding tournaments during the bass spawn, nor many closed spring seasons.

The recent trend in Northern states has been to create spring catch-and-release seasons. This has been a slow process in a few states mainly because just as some hunters are personally opposed to shooting does, some anglers do not like the thought of fishing for spawning bass even though our present season doesn’t protect a lot of the spawn. It has little to do with science and much to do with opinions.

The amount of bass we caught June 7 and 8 is a tiny percentage of the number of bass that live in the chain of lakes. Almost all the bass we did weigh during the actual tournament were released alive into the Torch River near Torch Lake. They had quick access to Torch, or could head downstream to Skegemog and Elk. Studies show that many of the released bass begin moving back to the lakes they came from shortly after release. We have previously shown bass released in the Elk River to get as far as Torch Lake within two weeks.

We had an exceptional weigh in June 7 and 8. The overall catch was very impressive, as good as previous catches going back many years. The average size of the top weights was actually noticeably larger than any previous tournaments we’ve had on the chain indicating a very healthy bass population with excellent numbers of quality bass despite no spawn protection for three decades.dl logo

*This article previously appeared in the July 3, 2003 issue of The Town Meeting Elk Rapids paper

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