Sunday, October 2, 2016

Fish and Boat Commission spawning bass experiment

A decision made this past week may change the future of Pennsylvania fishing.
Next spring, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is going to allow the state's organized bass anglers to hold a tournament or two on an inland lake during the bass spawn. If all goes well, the commission indicated, such events could become a regular part of the state's fishing scene.
That's a departure from existing rules.
Right now, springtime bass fishing — from April 16 through June 17 this year — is OK only on a catch-and-immediate-release basis, with no tournaments permitted.
That's meant to protect fish guarding eggs.
Andy Shiels, chief of the commission's bureau of fisheries, said some research shows that removing bass from nests on northern lakes leads to almost immediate predation by bluegills, rock bass and the like.
“I think our biggest concern as biologists, on the science side, would be removing those fish from their nests,” Shiels said.
Pennsylvania's ban on spring tournaments long has existed, with one notable exception. They are allowed on Pymatuning Lake, which straddles the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. No one with the Fish and Boat Commission or Ohio Division of Wildlife, which co-manage the lake, has suggested the fishery is suffering as a result.
Bass anglers have noticed.
“It gets hammered with fishing pressure, and still it just keeps getting better as a bass fishery,” said Ben Bilott of North Huntingdon, president of PA BASS Nation. “We're not sure how well a fishery is doing is really related to when fishing is occurring.”
Ohio fisheries officials agree.
Matt Wolfe, a biologist with the Division of Wildlife, said that agency allows bass tournaments during the spawn — on Pymatuning and all of its inland lakes — because they seem to cause no ill effects to bass on a population-level scale.
“It might seem like a lot of fish when you have a 100-boat field and each of them brings in six bass. OK, that's 600 bass,” Wolfe said. “But that's a drop in the bucket compared to how many spawning bass there might be in a population.
“From our standpoint, we don't see any implications.”
There's an economic side, too, said Josh Giran, vice president of PA BASS Nation. Right now, that organization travels out of state to hold springtime tournaments. Giran said competitors spend about $560 each, not counting fuel. Given the size of the typical field, he said that's putting $40,000 per event into the hands of others.
“I'd really like to keep it here in the state of Pennsylvania,” Giran said.
Fish and Boat Commissioners apparently agree. They directed agency staff to develop rules allowing springtime tournaments next year.
What form they'll take, where they might be held and how many would be allowed have yet to be determined.
Anglers may have to make concessions early on, however.
Shiels said staff is leaning toward requiring anglers to make any spawn season tournaments catch, photo and release events. That means competitors would have to weigh or measure fish right where they were caught, then immediately release them into the water rather than run them to a weigh-in station.
That's how most kayak bass tournaments are run these days, he said.
“I think that's the way of the future anyway,” Shiels said.
Such a rule probably would force a group like PA BASS Nation to run a springtime tournament as a benefit event rather than a qualifier, Bilott said.
“When there's money on the line, you can't allow for the chance of someone cheating, or even the perception that someone might be able to cheat,” he said.
But the group might be willing to start out that way to get this idea rolling, he added.
The commission's intent is not to allow unlimited bass fishing by all anglers during the spawn, board president Glade Squires said. It's looking to try this with just a few registered tournaments on some of the state's bigger lakes, like perhaps Raystown, as an experiment in cooperation with competitive anglers.
“I think there are ways we can work with them,” he said.
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via@bobfryeoutdoors.

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