New bass regs are proposed

Lansing — The state Natural Resources Commission was expected to approve a proposal at its April 9 meeting in Lansing to allow catch-and-immediate-release bass fishing year-round for the entire state, unless otherwise closed to fishing. The proposal, submitted by the DNR Fisheries Division, is a scaled-down version of another proposal that included catch-and-delayed-release spring fishing for tournament anglers, which stirred up controversy in the bass-fishing community.

The original proposal submitted to the NRC asked for CIR bass fishing all year, statewide (unless otherwise closed to fishing). The bass possession season would remain the same. The proposal also requested a new CDR bass season from the last Saturday in April to the Saturday before Memorial Day for bass-fishing tournaments registered with the DNR. 

In a CDR tournament, bass could be kept in a livewell until the tournament weigh-in. This option would be only for bass   tournaments at DNR access sites, and tournaments would have to be pre-registered with the DNR.

“Statewide catch and immediate release is the only proposal we are moving forward with for immediate action,” DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter told Michigan Outdoor News. “We want to test catch and delayed release on 10 to 20 inland lakes,” before opening it up statewide.

NRC chairman John Matonich said opposition to catch and delayed release caused the commission to rethink the original proposal. There was little opposition to the catch-and-immediate-release option, he said.

“We have a modification to the recent proposal that had some opportunity for catch and delayed release. That caused a lot of concern by a lot of anglers and a lot of associations,” Matonich told MON. “There have been two studies since 2000 that looked at sensitivity of (bass) beds. When you take males off the beds for three or four hours, it can have an impact.

“Rather than have a broad-based approach to CDR, we thought it would be better to have 10 to 12 lakes at strategic locations to implement a pilot program for CDR in tournaments.

“For catch and immediate release, everyone was on board with that,” he said.

Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation started the discussion on liberalizing bass regulations when it submitted a proposal to the DNR in June 2013 to increase bass-fishing opportunities in Michigan. 

Dan Kimmel, conservation director with Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation, said the recent developments with the proposed regulations have been bittersweet.

“Part of me is happy that we got rid of the closed season, but it seems like a hollow victory,” Kimmel said. “The DNR said all of the options (including those that were discussed before the CDR proposal moved to the forefront) had minimal risk to the resource. It just seems like an emotional decision instead of a scientific one.” 

The DNR says nearly 70 percent of Michigan’s 1.1 million anglers consider themselves bass anglers, and about 62 percent of bass anglers release all the bass they catch. 

A year-round CIR season could improve local and regional economies, the DNR says, by providing an increase in fishing effort for bass throughout the year.

Art Ferguson, a tournament bass angler and fishing guide on Lake St. Clair, is opposed to the CDR option on St. Clair, which was named the best bass lake in the country in 2013 by Bassmaster Magazine.

“I’m a tournament fisherman so people expect me to support (the option of catch and delayed release fishing), but I just feel it would create a major issue,” Ferguson said.

“I’ve been fishing tournaments in Michigan for 35 years now and to me, the fishing has always been very good. Lake St. Clair has one of the best fisheries of any state in the country. I don’t know why you would want to change that. 

“If there’s nothing wrong with it, don’t try to fix it.”

Dexter said that per the NRC’s request, his staff is working with constituents to come up with a list of potential test lakes for  CDR. 

Public meetings on the issue will be held this summer, and the final list will be presented to the Natural Resources Commission later this year. Implementation should begin next spring.

The CDR season would run from the last Saturday in April to the Saturday before Memorial Day for bass-fishing tournaments registered with the DNR. In a CDR tournament, bass could be kept in a livewell until the tournament weigh-in, then must be released.

This option would be only for bass-fishing tournaments at DNR access sites, and tournaments would have to be pre-registered with the DNR. 

The tournament director would be required to provide results of the event to DNR biologists. Registration would occur through the Michigan Fishing Tournament Information System, an application on the DNR’s website.

“It’s still a low-risk option, but we’re going to test the waters,” Dexter said. 

“We’ll require that the tournaments register with us and report their results. That will be very important because it will tell us where people are going and what they are catching,” he added.

“My personal feeling is that I think people will use the catch-and-immediate-release opportunity, but that we won’t be overrun with early tournaments,” he said. “We won’t really know for sure until we get the results. Then we will be able to decide if we want to expand it in the future.”

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