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ERIC SHARP: Neither side golden in bass dispute

July 9, 2004

BY ERIC SHARP
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Tournament bass anglers will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at Bass Pro Shops in Auburn Hills to work out ways to stop what they see as the loss of three weeks of the competitive fishing season under regulations proposed by the Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR's proposed rules are a compromise aimed at protecting the bass population while acknowledging and legalizing a preseason catch-and-release fishery that has been a common practice for a decade.

The DNR has had a real problem policing the preseason fishery, because it's nearly impossible to win a court case against an angler who is ticketed for catching a bass in May when the season is open for pike and walleyes that take the same lures.

If I got one of those citations, I'd demand a jury trial, and I'd also ask the judge to order the DNR to train bass to avoid biting lures in lakes where pike and walleye fishing are allowed at a time when bass fishing is not.

The preseason, catch-and-release bass fishery has grown remarkably over the past few years because of several factors, including the increasing popularity of bass clubs in what was once almost exclusively walleye country, and the burgeoning number of bass guides.

Under present regulations, bass fishing closes statewide from Jan. 1 until the Saturday preceding Memorial Day. Then catch-and-keep fishing runs through Dec. 31 with the exception of Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, which remain closed until the third Saturday in June.

The regulations recommended by a DNR study committee would allow catch-and-immediate-release from Jan. 1 to March 15, close the season March 16 to the last Saturday in April in the Lower Peninsula and March 16-May 15 in the UP, then reopen for catch-and-immediate-release until the third Saturday in June. The catch-and-keep period would be from the third Saturday in June until Dec. 31 statewide.

The tournament anglers don't like this, because they say it eliminates three tournament weekends out of what they already see as a very short season, compared with most parts of the country.

The problem with their argument is that we shouldn't be managing the fishery for the benefit of tournament anglers, who account for a relative handful of the roughly 500,000 Michiganders who say they at least occasionally fish for bass. We should be managing the fishery for the benefit of the bass to ensure that we will always have lots of them.

But the DNR is on equally shaky ground, because it hasn't produced convincing science to show that catching-and-keeping bass in May has any harmful effects on the bass population. In fact, it hasn't been able to show that leaving the season open year-round, as many states do, reduces bass numbers or sizes.

For more about the meeting and the issues, go to www.michiganbassanglers.com.

Contact ERIC SHARP at 313-222-2511 or [email protected] Order "Fishing Michigan" at www.freep.com/bookstore or 800-245-5082.

h2o
 
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