LDWF bass study could impact regulations

By John K. Flores

This past spring while fishing in Bear Bayou with my wife, I couldn’t get over how many 10- to 13-inch largemouth bass I caught cast after cast on a “Poppa-Chop” jig only having to release every last one of them. They weren’t my target fish. But, like a wolf pack, the aggressive little bass wouldn’t stop swallowing the crappie bait I tossed at the edge of the grass. I lost count somewhere around 50 — no kidding!

Seeing the fun I was having, a bass angler from Baton Rouge who was scouting out the area for an upcoming tournament asked if I minded him squeezing in next to us.

“Heck no,” I said. “I’m about to switch to worms — we’re trying to fish for bream, anyway.”

I watched the bass angler literally do the same thing I had just finished doing, catching bass after bass only to toss them back when he said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m having fun.”

Indeed, catching fish at will is a lot of fun.

A few weeks ago, below the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway along the coastline, my son and I got into the bass again. Only this time, we tossed those aggressive 10- to 13-inch bass into the ice chest to take home for supper.

What was the difference as to why I could keep the fish this time? Simply, there was no 14-inch minimum length regulation like there has been in the Atchafalaya Basin for the past 20 years.

This past week, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries released a report on the 14-inch minimum length limit for largemouth bass in the basin. Additionally, in an open letter to sportsmen from Director of Inland Fisheries Mike Wood, the department — in the coming months — plans to share information compiled from the study with bass anglers and address their questions.

Moreover, the department will receive their feedback and comments as well regarding the future of bass regulations in the Atchafalaya Basin.

In the letter Wood states, “Results from our study indicate that the basin bass population is more heavily influenced by environmental factors than anglers. Springtime water fluctuations can produce a highly successful spawn if the water is right, a poor spawn if it’s not. When the basin produces a poor year class of fingerlings, fewer adults are available down the road. Growth rate and life span are also critical factors of any population. We found that bass in the basin don’t grow very fast compared to other waters, and those that reach the 14-inch mark are well over three years old. Basin bass also have short life spans, with few living past the age of five. Slow growth and short life spans aren’t necessarily bad; they come with the territory in the Atchafalaya Basin. The basin still has a very healthy bass population, but the combination of slow growth and short life spans lends to smaller bass.”

Wood’s letter goes into detail how Hurricane Andrew decimated the bass population in 1992, where the 14-inch minimum regulation was put in place following restocking to aid the recovery. However, following hurricanes Lili (2002) and Gustav (2008) bass populations suffered again.

Largemouth bass in the marsh have similar traits in that they live hard and die young, generally not getting very big. In fact, every fish that came out of the little slough my son and I fished looked to be cloned, a characteristic of living in a “dog-eat-dog” environment.

In a conversation I had with Wood concerning marsh bass he said, “There probably is adaptations to their habitat that might separate them from some of those that live further north, by virtue of the fact they are exposed to different stressors. Those fish don’t have to deal with salinity and tremendous shifts and the dynamic nature of marsh that these little bass have to. Their forage is heavy on invertebrates. Invertebrates don’t have a lot of protein, and so, bass might get fat on them — they’re like candy — but, there’s not a lot of growth food there.”

Literally, St. Mary Parish bass anglers can start fishing in the marsh below the Intracoastal and depending on the speed of the boat they’re running, can be fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin 20-minutes or so later. Geographically speaking, we’re not talking much distance where the regulation applies and doesn’t apply.

Local bass anglers with the LDWF announcement will no doubt have a lot to say when it comes to possible changes in the 14-inch minimum regulation in the Basin, regardless of the science behind the studies. And, depending on if the fisherman is a tournament bass angler or recreational angler with envy for fried bass fillets, those comments could greatly differ.

Local bass angler Gary Blanco, who has fished his share of local bass tournaments and was winner of the 2011 Pro Bass Challenge, said, “Saturday, we were fishing in the Basin and caught 30 bass and only two were keepers. Personally, I’d like to see them keep the 14-inch limit, but I understand there’s a lot of small fish and something needs to be done.”

I’ve interviewed tournament anglers who refer to recreational anglers, such as myself, as meat eaters, expressing indifference to those who don’t practice catch and release where largemouth bass are concerned.

I’m OK with that reference, because it’s true. I am a meat eater. But, I doubt that I’ve put much of a dent in the bass population through the years that I’ve tossed a crank-bait into Sportsman Paradise waters.

What’s more, if I had to rely on my skills with this particular species high on my diet, I’d probably starve to death.

I do have to say though, I’ve watched other meat eaters, which include osprey, eagles, cormorants, otters and other creatures that never practice catch and release with any species of fish, nor follow the 14-inch minimum regulation for bass in the basin.

In the coming months, it will be interesting what the LDWF comes up with concerning regulations once all of the public comments are sorted through, juxtaposed with all of the biology and science that went into the Atchafalaya Basin study.

If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share, you can contact Flores at (985) 395-5586 or gowiththeflo@cox.net.

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