January 07, 2021
It may not come as a surprise to readers that the benefits of today’s angling electronics have been scientifically documented, but a study in Wisconsin provides the first solid proof of this belief.* Scientific verification is critical to the ability of managers to understand how fishing pressure relates to catch and harvest, especially as ice fishing has become increasingly popular and anglers are increasingly mobile and knowledgeable. Moreover, efforts are underway across the Midwest to prevent overharvest of large panfish.
Biologists with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) conducted a multifaceted investigation, coupling internet search engine analysis with winter creel surveys conducted on 11 lakes in northern Wisconsin. Surveyed anglers were targeting bluegill, black crappie, yellow perch, pike and walleyes during the winter of 2018-2019. Across all waters, 70 percent of anglers used electronic aids while fishing, including GPS units or smart phones with apps, sonars, and underwater cameras, and 40 percent used them to locate fishing spots.
Catch results were most dramatic for the three panfish species. Catch and harvest rates for bluegills and perch were much higher for anglers using electronics, up to 295 percent greater in some cases. Use of the equipment solely to find spots also resulted in higher catches bluegill and perch. Results for crappies were less dramatic. And surprisingly, pike anglers generally experienced a lower harvest probability and catch rates than unaided anglers, while walleye chasers found higher probabilities of catching fish with electronics, but lower catch rates. The researchers attributed a good bit of this disparity to the widespread use of tip-ups for walleyes and pike versus active jigging for panfish. They also noted the potential for increased exploitation rates as anglers use electronics more widely. Daily bag limits are generally set with an eye on the low catch rates that often occur on an annual basis, but these rates clearly are increasing for many anglers.
*Feiner, Z. S., A. W. Latzke, M. H. Wolter, L. D. Eslinger, and G. R. Hatzenbeler. 2020. Assessing the rage against the machines: Do ice anglers’ electronics improve catch and harvest rates? Fisheries 45(6) 327-333.