DEC eyes expanding Lake Erie’s trophy bass season

Staff Report

Buffalo, N.Y. — Lake Erie’s trophy bass season, which allows anglers to keep one fish over 20 inches, could get an early start under a DEC proposal expected to reach the regulatory process later this year.

The proposal – DEC officials are calling it a simplification of the lake’s bass fishing regulations – would essentially set the trophy season to begin on Dec. 1, the day after the regular bass season closes.

The lake’s trophy bass season, during which anglers can use live bait and keep one fish of 20 inches or longer, currently runs from the first Saturday in May up until the regular-season kickoff on the first Saturday in June.

DEC officials, in announcing the proposal was under consideration, said the move essentially creates two bass seasons on Lake Erie instead of the current three.

“This reduction from three black bass seasons to two will simplify regulations while also expanding opportunities to use live bait and harvest one large bass per day,” officials said in announcing the potential proposal. “The two seasons… provide similar angling opportunities and should be combined to achieve simpler, more understandable regulations.”

The Dec. 1 to the Friday before the current trophy season kickoff  – which opens on the first Saturday in May – is currently a catch-and-release, artificial lures-only offering.

DEC’s announcement of the potential proposal – part of a laundry list of regulations changes under consideration – said “fishing opportunities and angler harvest should not be measurably influenced by adopting the one black bass daily limit, 20 inches minimum length, and no bait restrictions through this entire period. A segment of the black bass angling community prefers to use live bait during springtime, and the 20-inch minimum size limit was strongly supported by much of the bass angling community during the last regulatory change for Lake Erie black bass in 2007.”

But early indications are that the angling community is concerned with the possible expansion of the trophy bass season on Lake Erie.

“I don’t think it’s a smart move,” said Frank Campbell, a veteran guide who operates Niagara Region Service and regularly plies the waters of Lake Erie for its big smallmouth bass.

Campbell noted safety concerns with boaters on the big lake in the winter, and also said the bass “are schooled up at that time and fairly susceptible. You can really put a hurting on them at a time when they’re already stressed. Personally, I don’t think it makes sense.”

DEC officials, in announcing the potential plan, noted that during winter and early spring bass fishing “is generally not possible due to ice and foul weather.”

If the proposal moves forward to the formal rulemaking process and is approved, the regulation wouldn’t take effect until April 1, 2017.

A formal public comment period will take place during that process, and DEC is also accepting input now through March 31 to gauge stakeholder opinion on the idea.

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