Can we change regulations to promote a stronger trophy bass fishery in this state? That is a good question. I’m glad you asked. The angling culture is changing; subsistence angling for bass is not as common as it use to be and everyone seems to be gunning for that trophy. Because of this, voluntary catch and release is on the rise. A lot of our (FWC’s) regulations are based on the assumption that anglers are taking a portion of their catch. So, if anglers are taking less and the fishing culture is shifting, perhaps it is time for biologists to reassess largemouth regulations.
Freshwater fisheries researchers recently ran statistical tests to see which bass regulations might improve trophy bass fisheries. Having more big fish is beneficial in several ways. Bigger females produce more eggs, so keeping these girls around could increases the odds of having solid numbers of young bass the next year. In addition, more trophy-size fish can have significant economic benefits. For example, the trophy largemouth bass fishery at Lake Fork, Texas, was estimated to be worth about US$27.5 million in 1994, and anglers outside the local area accounted for 92 percent of the total money spent. I know that was 20 years ago, but it doesn’t mean that stat is any less impressive. It’s easy to see why many agencies are trying to improve these fisheries; big bass could be a substantial boost to local economies. For example, 62 percent of freshwater anglers in Florida target bass. If you take that percentage out of the $1.7 billion impact from freshwater fishing in the state you’d get more than a billion dollars worth of bass fishing in Florida.
Time for the science! There were several factors researchers considered before heading into this study. Restrictive regulations such as high minimum length limits, low maximum length limits, large protective slots, and mandatory catch-and-release can increase the number of trophy-size fish for some fisheries. However, it is often difficult to determine if these regulations are effective because getting information about trophy-size fish is especially difficult. They are extremely rare and their habitat use can make them hard to catch with our conventional sampling techniques. So, biologists with FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) used statistical modeling techniques to evaluate the affects of different regulations on trophy bass fisheries. The models they created predicted how many trips it would take to land a trophy under different regulations. These predictions were then confirmed by comparing actual catches on lakes with similar regulations. The goal was to focus on increasing both the numbers of trophy bass and the probability of you catching one. What good are more big ones if you folks can’t go catch them? Keeping this information and the trend towards voluntary fish release in mind take a look at what they found.
TABLE 1: If anglers took average numbers of bass the model predicted number of trips for landing a trophy…
So, more restrictive regulations would be expected to increase the numbers of big fish and decrease the amount of trips it would take to land one. But, what happens when anglers take fewer bass?
TABLE 2: If anglers took fewer numbers of bass the model predicted number of trips for landing a trophy…
Off the bat we can see just by taking fewer bass the models show a general decrease in the number of fishing trips needed to land a trophy. They also show that despite the fact that anglers are taking fewer fish restrictive regulations can still improve the odds of hooking up with a trophy. Anything that keeps mature, breeding, fish in the water longer will increase your odds of catching something significant.
While restrictive regulations could increase trophy catches, they also limit what you can bring home. So any changes to bass regulations will work toward a balance between the two. We want anglers to enjoy fishing and to engage our agency in conversation to reach that goal. Let us know what you think about these findings in the comments section and visit our management site to find out more about how you can get involved by filling out a survey.