DOW looks to tweak bass regulations for better fishing

Athens, Ohio – The DNR Division of Wildlife hosted a Bass
Regulations Forum on Dec. 19 in Columbus.

The forum was held to discuss potential ideas for adjusting
inland black bass regulations based on a review of current and
historical fisheries information from reservoirs throughout
Ohio.

Ray Petering, executive administrator of fish management and
research, opened the Dec. 19 meeting in Columbus by welcoming a
select group of guests representing major Ohio bass clubs,
tournament organizers, bass anglers and fellow DOW personnel.
Petering explained the forum’s objective was to present an overview
of the current DOW review and revision process for Ohio bass
regulations in the state’s reservoirs as well as to gather valuable
input on issues, attitudes, and concerns of Buckeye bass
anglers.

In addition to Petering, the DOW was represented by: Scott Hale,
inland fisheries program administrator; Rich Carter, fish
management supervisor District 1; Don Swatzel, fisheries biologist
District 4; and administrative assistant Angela Latham. Invited
guests in attendance included K. Barry Davis, American Bass
Anglers; Rory Franks, LaDue Bass Series; James Siders, USA
Bassin-Ohio Division; Jeff Tipple, inland bass guide; and Todd
Thompson and Bob Townsend representing the Ohio Bass Federation
Nation.

Southeast Ohio’s first big snowstorm of the season prevented a
few invited guests from attending the December forum so another
meeting was scheduled for Jan. 7 in Athens. Jim Doss, Ohio Bass
Federation president, and Tim Parrett of the DOW Athens office were
also in attendance at the January forum.

Scott explained that any development of regulations is a
science-based procedure utilizing biological and social
information.

“The challenge of new regulations is managing the resource for
such a wide diversity of interests and different levels of
participation,” he said. “Anglers have their own set of values and
perceptions when it comes to bass fishing.”

The history of Ohio’s effort to regulate the bass fishery dates
back to 1902. Prior to that, commercial fishing in Ohio included
black bass. With the commercial harvest prohibited in 1902, more
stringent bass fishing regulations were implemented in the 1940s.
The laws began to liberalize in the 1950s and continued doing so
into the 70s. The state’s daily limit for black bass in 1973 was
eight. The first 14-inch minimum length limit was imposed in 1977.
By 1984, a few lakes had experimental 14-, 15-, or 16-inch length
limits. In 1987, a 12-inch length limit was imposed on all Ohio
lakes over 500 acres.

The 18-inch limit at Knox Lake was implemented in 1991 as part
of a research project to determine if building up populations of
larger fish would increase a more reliable reproduction. Follow-up
research did not prove this expected outcome. However, the result
transformed Knox into one of the best lakes in Ohio to catch large
numbers of bass, including some in the lunker category.

The current statewide five bass daily limit took effect in
2000.

There are three primary types of lakes in Ohio, and this is
where the process of reviewing bass fishing potential begins. Using
25 acres as the minimum size, Ohio has nine canal lakes, 38
upground reservoirs, and 96 tributary reservoirs that allow public
fishing. Thirty two lakes have a 12-inch limit, 30 lakes have a
15-inch limit, five lakes have an 18-inch limit, and 19 have a 12-
to 15-inch slot. Many small lakes in the state do not have a size
limit for bass.

The DOW uses three methods to estimate the bass population of a
lake: electro-shocking boats, tournament results and angler
surveys. Bass forums, online responses and creel surveys are the
tools used for angler surveys.

The DOW assesses bass populations using statistics such as the
number of bass sampled electrofishing per hour and the number of
hours it takes a tournament angler to land one keeper. This process
also provides data to determine the number of larger fish in the
population, the overall fitness of the bass and their growth
rate.

Cutting through the formulas and graphs, the findings from all
the data supports several distinct patterns. Unregulated lakes have
lower numbers of larger bass. Length limit lakes have higher
numbers of keepers, which are bass 12 inches or larger.

Length limits also can increase the size and numbers of fish in
a lake. However, sometimes these limits do not have the desired
effect. Factors that throw a wrench in the game plan include
varying water levels and the ever unpredictable Mother Nature.
Unfortunately, the Ohio DOW does not have any influence with either
of those outfits.

Remember, Hale cited science-based biology and social factors
for regulations to be successful. The DOW can regulate our waters
as much as it cares to do so, but how the public accepts these
regulations determines the success rate more so than the amount of
ink per page in a rulebook.

Angler surveys have shown that most tournament bass anglers
would prefer to catch a limit of 12-inch bass rather than landing
one 16-incher. Also, the 12-inch minimum receives strong approval
from both dedicated bass anglers and non-bass anglers. Most anglers
felt slot limits were effective. The catch-and-release mentality
that exists among bass fishermen, especially the tournament crowd,
tends to transform a 12- to 15-inch slot limit lake into merely a
15-inch keeper body of water.

The DOW has four goals in the current plan to maintain and
improve bass fishing in our state.

€ Maximize numbers and size of fish.

€ Serve the interests of a widely diverse group of anglers.

€ Create a fair distribution of angling opportunities.

€ Prevent overharvest.

To reach these goals, three strategies that are being considered
for discussion include:

€ A statewide regulation of 12-inch length limit and five fish
daily to provide many 12-inch bass with traditional harvest
opportunities. This would essentially be the “base” regulation for
bass in inland waters

€ On a small subset of reservoirs with the correct biological
conditions, such as where 15-inch or slot-length limits are
currently in place, or other reservoirs, a 15-inch length limit,
four fish daily split limit where two bass over and two bass under
15-inch could be kept. The intent of this regulation is to maximize
catch rates of 12-15-inch bass, promote larger fish, and allow
limited harvest by slightly thinning out the 10-15-inch bass. This
regulation would help the bass maintain good growth and body
condition.

€ On a very few subset of reservoirs, a 14-20-inch slot limit,
three fish split daily, where one bass over 20 inches and two under
14 inches could be kept. This approach is to create a trophy bass
fishery. Limited to very few lakes, this trophy regulation would be
implemented at smaller lakes where annual reproduction is good.

The clock is running for this set of ideas, but not all that
fast. Discussion for this plan began in December 2008 with the
first glimpse of it beginning in December 2009. Allowing access to
the media and counting on word of mouth communication to get the
message out will continue.

Throughout 2010, the DOW will conduct on-the-water and online
surveys to determine how Ohio’s anglers feel about these three
approaches. In 2008 and 2009, similar surveys concerning
regulations for saugeyes, crappie and walleyes were made.

Biologically speaking, identifying the lakes best suited for
each option will begin this spring and should conclude by late fall
2010. From the end of the identification process to December, the
DOW will conduct an internal review and revision. Hale is hopeful
that the new regulations could be taken to the Wildlife Council
during 2011. If that happens, adjustments for inland bass fishing
might occur as soon as 2012.

The purpose of the bass fishing forums was to continue a
discussion of new ideas with the potential to improve fishing and
to hear what’s on the minds of Ohio’s bass anglers. Other topics
and questions did arise during the two meetings. For example, the
idle-only policy for unlimited horsepower boats adopted at a few
lakes like Knox and Burr Oak seems to be a huge success. Compliance
has not been a problem except for one incident at Knox Lake. The
closed season at Lake Erie for smallmouth bass along with the
five-fish, 14-inch limit seems to be rebuilding the population.

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