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The study of stream smallies is common and quite a bit different than large river, lake and reservoir issues dealing with smallies. Very different dynamics. There are numerous studies that show additional issues when dealing with stream smallies.

It's kind of interesting that another northern state tightens rules and still allows a longer bass fishing season than we have in Michigan. This regulation wouldn't affect tournament bass anglers too much since a lot of streams won't host bass boats. You will notice that the major Illinois rivers don't have this new regulation, so this is probably not a major change affecting tournament bass anglers.

The Illinois change does appear to support what I've been asking for, legal catch and immediate release of bass statewide during the entire spring. I have some concerns though on this specific season change.

This is the second state that has recently made a major regulation change citing studies that have not reached conclusions regarding bass population changes, from one source, in a far northern climate that has definite differences involved in their bass populations. I talked to Dr. Ridgway for some time. I understand that he is trying to demonstrate some cause and effect that isn't largely accepted. He has not shown the direct link between bass spawning and bass recruitment. Any fisheries biologist that tells you there is a direct link between bass spawning and bass recruitment is telling you the opposite of what the majority of biologists believe and the opposite of what studies show. It is valuable information to add to the knowledge base, but not definitive, so it concerns me that states would use it to make major changes in smallmouth regulations.

Minnesota now has a statewide catch and release season on smallies effective this year starting September 6. I talked to the Minnesota BASS Federation and they said they don't have too many tournaments after that time due to cold weather so it wasn't a major issue for them. There were some very vocal Minnesota groups that pushed for this change. The bulk of the issue also surrounded streams, not lakes. The concern of the MN DNR (I talked to them at length also) was stream smallies too, but it was easier for them to make the change statewide despite no real applicable data to this change being necessary for lakes. They feel their anglers still want simplified regulations.

Enough study data exists to show stream smallies may need more protection than smallmouth populations on large rivers and in lakes. This information has been available from other sources for some time and involves more than just spawning protection of some kind. From talking to experts in these studies in the State of Tennessee, again, the real key to stream smallmouth success are water levels, especially in the summer and fall. I'd have to go back through my notes to remind myself of the specifics. I have one of their in-depth studies here in the house, but I've only done one quick reading of it so far since I have plenty to read on issues that directly affect our season change.

I think it's important to note this quote from an Illinois fisheries person in particular: "The idea (of the new rule) is that anglers will release the fish where they catch them and, boom, they'll pop right back to the nest," said Mike Conlin, head of fisheries. "We don't know for sure that it will make a positive difference, but we want to try to find out."

That highlights my concern very well. We as anglers, need to be very knowledgeable on these issues since we can't always expect proposed changes to be acceptable to our needs or that the changes will have solid scientific and biological support behind them. This is the only way we can pursue the most enjoyment the bass in Michigan can provide while not easily giving into unnecessary regulation changes.

I like this part of the information much better:
"Conlin does not, however, envision statewide spawn protection for largemouth bass.

"There's too many regulations for almost everything we do in life," Conlin said. "We don't want to restrict folks from fishing or from catch-and-release tournaments or from taking fish unnecessarily. That's why we're looking at it very closely." "

That sounds more like what I hope for, yet that same department made a broad change in the smallmouth management referring to studies that don't solidly support it. Maybe certain types of anglers don't care about the stream smallmouth change, but that doesn't mean the next one won't be closer to home for tournament bass anglers. We (tournament bass anglers) have to stay on top of these things and watch them closely even when they don't seem to affect us directly. How would it be if Michigan suddenly announced plans to close smallmouth to catch and immediate release only after Labor Day? Not good.

Does that mean I expect the MDNR to do something like that. No, of course not. I just want to make sure we are ready for these kinds of things. I think it's important to mention that Illinois does have a tournament permit process that can allow bass tournaments exceptions in certain cases to certain regulations (the new stream smallmouth season can not be excepted, but really doesn't apply as mentioned above). This is from the 2003 Illinois fishing guide (their typo):

"Special exemption to the daily creel and size limits is requested for: (a) catch, hold for weigh-in, and release tournaments for muskies (all waters); (
black bass catch and release tournaments (Lake Michigan and streams except that the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash Rivers are not elibible for permits which exempt participants from daily catch
and size limits; © special catch and release tournaments for which the proceeds go towards youth education and/or charity type projects; (d) national catch and release tournaments; and (e) special fishing tournaments/events for children under 16, for disabled persons, or for adults over 65."

This is the general bass creel info from the 2003 Illinois fishing guide:
"Daily catch limit is 6 bass, either singly or in the aggregate. In rivers and streams (excluding the mainstem of the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash Rivers) the daily creel can contain no more than 3 smallmouth bass. In streams and tributaries statewide except for the Mississippi, Ohio, Wabash and Illinois Rivers, all smallmouth bass must be immediately released between April 1 and June 15. There is no statewide size limit."

It's also important to mention that Illinois is not a state known for lots of quality smallmouth fishing. They don't have the abundance of quality smallmouth water we have. They do have quite a few special regulations by waters.

I strongly support scientific studies and biological management. I don't support changes made for social reasons or changes based on uncorrelated, inconclusive or misleading information. I've posted a lot of information because I hope to show that there is a lot of scientific support for catch and release spring bass fishing, even in Michigan (even by some Michigan biologists).

I understand MDNR employees have a tough job at times. I don't intend to imply I don't trust all of them or that I dislike them either. I can disagree with individuals and still respect them depending on why they feel the way they do. I don't believe it's disrespectful to point out discrepancies or questionable areas either when it deals with our sport and resource.

BTW, during my talk with Ridgway, I found out that he's done some interesting studies on bass tournament impacts on bass populations. He seemed genuinely surprised that no one is referring to them like his other studies, especially since they would be very helpful in demonstrating that bass tournaments are not necessarily a major impact on bass populations.
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