Is Catch And Release A Good Policy?
As bass fishing developed into a national past-time, anglers were encouraged to– catch and release. Throw ‘um back and let ‘um grow. In theory, it sounded like a good idea.
Early anglers adopting catch and release dutifully tossed them back and revisited favorite fishing holes with high expectations. Soon, they realized bass remained the same size trip after trip. Catch rates of 30 or 40 were fun, but none of the fish earned bragging rights among buddies. Fishermen consulted biologists and learned ponds are confined spaces that must be managed to achieve high success. They grow a limited amount of forage. That forage can support only a limited amount of bass, crappie, or catfish. Without sufficient food, they literally don’t grow.
Bob’s friend, Dr. Richard Anderson, researched these trends and published a
groundbreaking study on bass growth rates decades ago. He sampled thousands of bass to document age, length, weight, and diets. Dr. Anderson’s renowned work established what he called relative weight standards. The data determined what a bass of a given length should weigh if developing normally. His chart is still used by biologist throughout the industry. We reference it evaluating bass in your lakes.
Studies reveal a bass must consume approximately 10-pounds of food to gain one-pound. Growth rates are relevant to the strength of the food chain. Stock 10 bluegill per bass, you get average results. Stock 20 or 30 bluegill per bass and see fingerlings reach 2.5 to near four-pounds in 18-months. Fail to follow a food chain/harvest plan, the 12-inch bass you catch today will be 12-inches when five-years-old. A healthy five-year-old bass should weigh eight to 10-pounds.
Harvest rates are determined by management goals. Do you want high catch rates of quality bass? Continually cull bass under 14-inches at 20-25-pounds per surface acre. Is your goal trophy lunkers? Harvest all under 16-inches at 25-30-pounds per acre. Harvest policies are not implemented as you have time. They are zero tolerance, make or break requirements for results. Meet quotas with fishing tournaments for family and friends. Hire our electrofishing boat to cull underperforming fish. The alternative, accept inferior fish.
Crappie and catfish are predators and should be high on harvest lists. Same for green sunfish and other species with big mouths that compete with bass. Harvest is important for small catfish ponds. If you stocked 100, introduce 50 to the dinner table when they reach one to two pounds. Simply replace them with 8-10 inchers for a perpetual supply of fillets. Catch 50, restock 50.
Biologist analyze harvest success by relative weights and population density. They electrofish a sample of bass, weigh and measure each, then post data to charts. Curved, blue base-lines on below graphs represent Dr. Anderson’s relative weight standards. Yellow symbols show actual fish sampled for a customer. Symbols over the line indicate under-nourished fish. Entries below the line are above-average weight for their length. These graphs help biologist identify important trends and make timely management adjustments to ensure the lake meets goals.
Population charts determine if the fishery has balanced size classes. You want to see one-pounders, two-pounders, three’s, four’s, five’s, and up. Unfortunately, poor harvest means bass stack-up in 10 to 13-inch ranges. Young fish, like teenagers, are growing fast and have big appetites. If not controlled, they deprive larger sportfish of ample food for continued growth. Without harvest, a lake may not produce bass larger than three-pounds. The poor profile below clearly illustrates where to focus harvest. Consistent harvest will produce success shown in the preferred profile.
Rally your harvest team! Only 90-days left to achieve this season’s goal.