I’m not one for keeping bass I catch. Of course, through all my years of fishing there have been exceptions, but that was a long time ago at a much younger age.
Conversely, I'm not condemning those who do creel bass, far from it. And although there seems to be a wave of criticism pointed toward anglers who do keep the large mouths and smallmouths they catch – mostly from those who are deeply entrenched in the world of bass tournaments – I see nothing wrong with the practice as long as the fish are kept in a responsible manner.
From talking with fisheries biologists over the past decade or so, ones from different states and diverse watery environments, they all seem to agree that the best approach for harvesting bass should be one that follows a “slot rule.”
A slot rule may be in the form of a regulation, or simply an initiative, that states fish may only be taken within certain size confines, or in the case of a suggestion, should only be taken within particular size boundaries.
In essence, abundance of bass in the water one fishes, the water’s size and the water’s ability to sustain a healthy bass population should be the determining factor for harvesting this species.
The biologists I have spoken with seemed to agree with the following example: If fishing a water that has a 12 inch minimum size limit for bass, and you catch a lot of fish that are near that size, but few or none that are big fish – say 18-plus inches – keep your creel to fish that are in the 12-, 13- or 14-inch range, because most likely that water body has too many fish in that size range competing for a limited amount of food.
Removing some of those fish will increase the chances for more of the remaining fish to grow larger, because their food supply will have increased.
Here in Pennsylvania, many lakes and rivers fall under “Big Bass Regulations” that maintain a much larger minimum size regulation, and a decreased creel limit. While this regulation works for increasing the number of bigger bass, it may also produce an end result of many fish just below or just above the size limit, and with few truly big bass swimming that particular water.
Here again, if you intend to keep some fish, keep only those that show the most abundance, which will be those closer to the size limit.
Some lakes and rivers are big enough to have plenty of habitat and space that offer a chance for fish to grow big no matter how heavy the angling pressure. Most bass lakes and smaller streams here in Pennsylvania however, do not.
And while the temptation to keep a big bass may be extremely difficult to bypass, the quick release of that hefty and outsized fish will do more to ensure future good bass fishing at that water than taking the big fellow home.