Thanks to Bob and the entire DEP for taking the time to read our comments and respond to them.
Sorry I haven't responded earlier, but these are busy times. Also, reviewing all the concerns and questions of ctfisherman.com readers about bass management, I'm just a bit overwhelmed. I feel like I'd have to write a whole textbook to fully answer everything! Many of the observations and opinions of your readers are good ones - some are based on misconceptions. I'll touch briefly on some topics to hopefully clear up some of the debate.
Goals and Objectives of CT Bass Management - One of the primary goals of most of our Inland Fisheries management programs is to optimize the quality and diversity of fishing opportunities in the state. "Quality", however, is in the eye of the beholder. For example, everyone wants to catch more and/or bigger bass, but opinions differ on how much harvest should be allowed. It is true that the majority of anglers release their bass regardless of size; however, a sizable (typically about one quarter) minority still wishes the opportunity to keep some bass. Typically, we try to come up with compromise regulations that don't completely alienate a significant (even if they're in the minority) segment of our constituency. We also tend toward management that doesn't completely curtail fishing opportunities. For example, length limits are more desirable than closed seasons because anglers are still able to fish with the former, but with the latter, they have to pack up their bags and go home. In the case of bass management, "diversity" translates to not managing all of our state's bass fisheries the same way (for example, with the same regulations). Hence, we've created the Bass Management Lakes.
Bass Management Lakes- We currently have 29 lakes with special regulations on bass that are more restrictive than the statewide 12-inch minimum length and 6-fish creel limit. We created two categories, "Big Bass" Management Lakes with moderately restrictive regulations and "Trophy Bass" Management Lakes with very restrictive regulations. Your readers need to know that this is still a "grand experiment" for Connecticut. We've instituted a variety of regulations to see what works where, and how anglers will react to them. Sampling for short-term results just began in 2005 and will continue through 2007 (regulations on most lakes were initiated in 2002). After our initial analyses are complete, we will reassess the whole program and decide what modifications need to be made.
The only thing we know for sure at this point comes from the literature and from the original three lakes in which experimental length and creel limits were implemented in 1989. Restrictive slot and minimum length limits have been successfully used to increase the density of larger bass in numerous waters across the country. In Connecticut, densities of greater than 12-inch bass increased by about 40% within 5 years and by more than 100% within 10 years in Moodus Reservoir and Pickerel Lake! In Lake Saltonstall, however, bass densities declined for all size classes despite an 18-inch minimum length and 1-fish creel limit. Without going into details, this illustrated how changes in a lake environment can have as big or bigger impact on a bass population than any regulations we can come up with.
Effectiveness of Slot Length Limits - Slot length limits have been successfully used all over the country to enhance fish populations. The purpose of a slot length limit is to allow harvest of surplus, overabundant small fish while at the same time, protecting larger fish. Theoretically, thinning out the smaller fish should reduce competition for food and cause growth rates to improve. In Pickerel Lake, the only CT lake in which a slot length limit has been in place for a number of years, bass population numbers and growth rates both improved. In many cases, too few anglers may be willing to keep small bass in order for the slot to work as planned (i.e. cause improvements in growth). This does not mean that the regulation is a failure or bad idea; however, because it still makes sense to allow the anglers the opportunity to harvest sizes of fish that are in surplus. In other words, at worst a slot limit increases the opportunity for anglers to keep bass, and although it may not have much of an effect on the bass population, it doesn't hurt it.
The 6-fish Creel Limit - In my opinion (which might not be shared by all my colleagues), there is merit in considering a reduction in the statewide bass creel limit. This is not advisable where a slot limit is in place; however, because in this situation we want to encourage harvest of as many small bass as possible. It is important for anglers to know that reduced creel limits don't typically have much of an impact on overall annual harvest rates. This is because in most lakes the majority (usually over 90%) of bass is typically harvested one or two at time. Reduced creel limits do have the benefit of reinforcing a conservation ethic (i.e. don't be a fish hog) and could be implemented solely for that purpose. All of the Bass Management Lakes have reduced creel limits (one or two fish) on larger bass and we will be assessing the benefits.
Tournament Bass Mortality- We were also concerned about the effects of tournaments on bass populations and conducted a cooperative two-year study with UConn during 2001-02. Overall, mortality rates were low (3.2% of the tournament-caught largemouths and 7.6% of the smallmouths died). Temperature was determined to be the most important factor determining mortality rates. This is why reported tournament mortality rates are much higher in southern states. We determined that at worst, tournaments accounted for a very low percentage of the overall bass mortality in most Connecticut lakes. For this reason, we've exempted tournament anglers from the special regulations in the Bass Management Lakes during all but July and August, the hottest months of the year.
Yes, it's important how tournament anglers handle their catch. Most do a good job - there are always a few that don't, which tends to give everyone else a black eye.
Yes, there are concerns about the effects of relocating fish long distances in big systems like the CT River and Candlewood. Initial studies have shown that fish eventually disperse and many (especially smallmouths) will travel long distances to return to where they were captured. This topic is still being studied and debated by fisheries scientists.
Fishing "Ain't What it Used to Be" - Some of your readers have reported "fewer big bass", but we have not observed this. We've heard complaints of this nature for some waters, but just as many anglers have reported great or improved fishing in others. In general, our electrofishing data indicates that bass populations are stable or have improved in most lakes over the past fifteen years. There are indications that there has been an increasing tendency toward catch-and-release bass fishing over the past twenty years. We've heard nothing to make us assume that harvest rates have generally increased.
It is reasonable to assume that fishing pressure has increased, however. There is plenty in the literature that points toward pressured bass getting harder to catch. I have heard reports of this being true in CT from a few "sharpies" who have claimed that they've had to fish deeper and with more finesse than they used to, but that the fish are still there. I know nobody wants to hear that the fish are there, but they just don't know how to catch them, but.... ________________________________________________________________
We really appreciate and applaud your readers' interest and concerns on the topic of bass management. It is important for everyone to know that we are listening and everyone's opinion matters and is considered. It is our charge to do our best to optimize angling opportunities for as many Connecticut anglers as possible. Your jobs are to be our eyes and ears out there - we can't be every place all the time - and let us know what you observe and how you think things are working out. It is also important for people to realize that bass management, like that of our other fish management programs, is a work in progress here in Connecticut. It is certainly not our intention to merely produce a bunch of mandates that will be in place forever. Instead, we will continue to experiment and tweak the system in an ongoing effort to improve fishing quality.
Bob Jacobs Eastern District Supervisor, CTDEP Inland Fisheries Division Project Leader - Connecticut Bass Research and Management Program
My name is Jim. You can call me slim. I row my boat way out to the middle.Cause the fish I'm after ain't so little. Pike, Trout, Largemouth Bass. Get me out there really fast. I know I'm good,really the best. The rest of you are such a pest. - By Henry Gibson Jim Boyne
Thanks for taking the time to reply, Bob. In general, I think our fisheries division does a better job than many others, considering the financial handcuffs put on the department by having to get its budget out of the general fund.
Everybody's got to believe something ó I believe I'll go fishing.
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You can take what you want from life......As long as you give a little Back. "We never get over the fishing fever, it's a delightful disease and thank the lord there is no cure". "CTF, is a lure I can not afford to NOT have in my pocket"
Donít argue with Idiots.. They will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.
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