Is it time for early C&R bass season?

Bemidji, Minn. — Past years have found Vern Wagner across the border in Wisconsin in early May, taking advantage of the opportunity to fish bass while Minnesota’s season is still closed.

Soon, he may not have to put on all those miles.

That’s because the DNR, as part of a rules package it’s unveiling in the next month or so, is proposing to institute an early catch-and-release season for bass beginning in 2015. Long on the wish list of bass anglers, it would open across the state with the walleye season and run until the regular bass season opens the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s a dream come true for almost anybody who fishes for bass,” said Wagner, Anglers for Habitat vice president and a member of the DNR’s Bass Workshop.

While Wagner and others for years have pushed for an early catch-and-release bass season, the DNR has taken a slower approach to the matter. One of its most recent actions was to gather angler opinion as one part of a human dimensions survey of bass fishermen.

The survey showed there was interest in an early catch-and-release season, said Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji.

Drewes called the proposed new season “a measured change.”

Many years, there will be bass on beds during the early season. The risk, Drewes said, is if bass are caught, transported away from their spawning grounds, and then released. For that reason, the DNR wouldn’t issue tournament permits during the early season, he said.

“The studies have shown that those bass – if they are males guarding their nests – will go back to the nest” if they’re released right after they’re caught, Drewes said.

But Wagner and others have argued that in many years when the regular season opens Memorial Day weekend, bass in the middle portion of the state are on their spawning beds anyway.

And farther to the north – in the Brainerd area, for example – the bulk of the spawn may not occur until a week or two after the opener.

“What have we been protecting?” Wagner said.

Drewes figures there will be interest in the season, especially among “the absolute die-hards.” But he believes people will take advantage of it on a more opportunistic basis – they’ll fish for walleyes opening weekend, and then, if the weather warms during the week, they’ll chase bass in those dark-bottomed bays.

“We think it’s a low-risk change to provide greater angling opportunity,” he said.

Smallmouth bass

In addition to the early catch and release proposal, the DNR also is proposing to remove the fall catch-and-release regulation for smallmouth bass in the northeastern part of the state. Currently, the smallmouth bass season shifts to catch and release only in early September.

Under the proposal, anglers in the northeast – north and east of Highway 53 – would be able to harvest smallies during the time anglers in the rest of the state have to release them.

While it would apply to that entire portion of the northeast, much of the interest has come from people who make fall trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

“We’ve heard from people every year that it affects a lot of Boundary Waters users,” Drewes said. “In a lot of those lakes, a meal of fish while you’re on a canoe trip falls on the backs of those 10- to 13-inchers.

“Relaxing that regulation in the northeast wouldn’t have natural resources consequences, and it would allow for additional recreational opportunities for Boundary Waters users,” he added.

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