DEC tailors bass regs to keep trophy season

By Steve
Piatt

Editor

Dunkirk, N.Y. – Lake Erie’s trophy bass season, which would have
been eliminated under a DEC bass regulations overhaul, will be
maintained with some size-limit modifications.

Doug Stang, DEC’s Bureau of Fisheries chief, says input and
discussions with Lake Erie smallmouth anglers has prompted a move
to bump up the one-fish size limit from the existing 15 inches to
either 18 or 20 inches for the special early season.

Generally regarded as one of the top smallmouth fisheries in the
country, the New York waters of Lake Erie has a special one-fish
trophy season that starts on the first Saturday of May and runs up
to the regular season opener. One smallmouth at least 15 inches in
length may be harvested.

The special season was slated to be dumped as part of the
statewide bass regulations changes that would have created
catch-and-release fishing from Dec. 1 to the day before the general
statewide opener.

But Stang said comments from anglers – notably from bass fishing
clubs that regularly fish Lake Erie – have prompted a second look
at Lake Erie’s trophy season.

“Right now we plan on going forward with similar regulations
that would include the early trophy season on Lake Erie, with a
size limit of either 18 or 20 inches,” Stang said. “We (DEC)
proposed 18, but a number of anglers who fish there thought 20
would be better. We thought 20 was a little high, but we’re
floating that number right now.”

Pennsylvania currently has a 20-inch size limit for its Lake
Erie trophy bass season, but Stang said that has no real influence
on DEC’s decision-making.

DEC’s Lake Erie unit had taken a hard look at the early trophy
season in light of numerous bass fishing tournaments which some
contend impacts the fishery during the nest-guarding and spawning
periods.

Bass fishing clubs argued that eliminating the one-fish limit
essentially would put an end to their early-season, one-fish
events. They countered with an increased size limit plan; about 80
percent of the spawning fish are 15-18 inches in length.

“They (anglers) will still be able to go out there and fish for
the potential state record with a one-fish limit,” Stang said.

New York’s current state record smallmouth is an 8.25-pound fish
caught 10 years ago on June 4 – prior to the regular-season
opener.

The Lake Erie trophy season would also allow for the use of live
bait, which Stang said “is a little less of an issue now, with more
anglers going to circle hooks” which limit mortality.

Many Lake Erie guides are also using live bait, he said, since
many of their clients aren’t adept at jig fishing “and they want to
catch fish.”

While an 18-inch size limit would cut down on the number of fish
being weighed in at tournaments, a 20-inch minimum would “still
mean a fair number of fish weighed in, but the (tournament anglers)
wouldn’t be leaving an 18- or 19-inch fish in the boat.”

Stang said DEC officials are aware that Lake Erie “is a really
outstanding resource, and we want to preserve that while at the
same time allowing people to enjoy it.”

Exceptions to the proposed bass regulations changes would be the
eastern basin of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and
tributaries, the Hudson River’s tidal portion, and Nassau and
Suffolk county waters, which would continue with a
third-Saturday-in-June to Nov. 30 season.

Hamilton and Franklin county waters, too, would continue to
follow the existing season.

Black Lake is already managed under more stringent regulations,
highlighted by a 15-inch minimum size limit.

The statewide regulations are a 12-inch minimum length and
five-fish limit.

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