Changes ahead for bass fishing?

Lapeer, Mich. — Bassmaster Magazine recently published its list of the top 100 bass-fishing waters for 2013, and five Michigan lakes, including the No. 1-ranked Lake St. Clair, were on it, further evidence of Michigan’s standing as a premier bass-fishing destination.

This makes Michigan’s seasonal closures during one of the best bites of the year – early spring – all the more frustrating for both local and out-of-state anglers.

That soon may change if a proposal being considered by the DNR is adopted.

The proposal, submitted by the Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation on behalf of Michigan’s Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society clubs and members, contains two provisions.

The first would extend the catch-and-release bass season (outside the possession season) on all Michigan waters to year-round. Currently, catch and release is legal from the last Saturday in April through the start of the possession season on the Saturday before Memorial Day in the Lower Peninsula, and from May 15 to the possession season opener in the U.P. From Jan. 1 through the start of the catch-and-release seasons, it’s illegal to catch or attempt to catch bass.

The second provision would move the opening of the possession season on Lake St. Clair from the third Saturday in June to the Saturday before Memorial Day – in line with the rest of the state.

Michigan’s current bass seasons were primarily designed to protect spawning fish, but considering the wide variance in the timing of the bass spawn in Michigan and the fact that the majority of bass anglers already release the bass they catch, earlier catch-and-release bass fishing would seem to have little impact, supporters say.

Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation conservation director Dan Kimmel, who crafted the proposal, points out that Michigan’s additional early spring bass-fishing opportunities would attract more out-of-state anglers and generate additional revenue in the form of nonresident fishing licenses, food, lodging, and fishing tackle.

Jim Sprague, owner of Michigan-based K & E Tackle, agrees. “I think the impact on the fishing and travel industries would be fantastic,” he said. “Overall, there would definitely be an increase in tackle and boat sales. Anglers would have a longer season to use products and that will lead to more sales.”

Mark Zona, host of ESPN’s The Bassmasters and the Outdoor Channel’s Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show moved to Michigan in 1991 primarily because of the phenomenal bass fishing. He said he supports efforts to preserve and protect Michigan’s bass fisheries, and the proposal to open catch-and-release fishing year-round.

“It’s a shame that the best fishing in the country is closed during one of the best times of the year,” Zona told Michigan Outdoor News.

The second provision – the proposed change to the possession season on Lake St. Clair – is drawing considerably more scrutiny, with most of the criticism focused on concern about the potential impact of three additional weeks of tournament fishing. Since tournaments can only be held during the possession season, the earlier start could mean many Lake St. Clair bass would still be spawning. Specifically, those who object to tournament angling during the spawning season view it as a threat to recruitment success when bedding bass are caught and then released far from their spawning site. Kimmel counters by pointing out that many locations in northern Michigan already receive considerable tournament fishing pressure during the spawning season, with no adverse effects on the fishery.

The proposal is in the hands of the DNR Warmwater Resources Steering Committee, which will consult with fisheries biologists to assess the potential impact on the fishery.

Todd Grischke, Lake Huron basin coordinator for the DNR Fisheries Division, is the committee’s sponsor. He estimated that the earliest anglers could see any regulatory changes related to the proposal is the 2015 season.

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