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June 2024 Issue: On the Cover

The Changing Nature of Managing Bass

Are Bass Getting Harder to Catch?

In-Fisherman June 2024 Issue
This big largemouth was caught from a private lake with limited fishing effort.

From Texas to Minnesota, I hear a common refrain from anglers: “Man, it’s getting harder and harder to catch a bass.” Many are quick to offer the reason: “It’s all the pressure.” Although the cause-and-effect—namely, that the fishing effort (“pressure”) makes the bass harder to catch—is tricky to pin down, there is some good science to support the anglers’ lament that bass may be getting harder to catch.

Sixty years ago, bass fishing was primarily a southern pastime. Bass fishing in northern lakes was excellent and quietly enjoyed by a few anglers, but the growth in popularity and participation was in the South. Many reservoirs were new with expanding fish populations; others were still young and filled with good, easy-to-find habitat. Bass fishing was excellent. For a while.

With time, catch rates—the number of bass caught per angler hour—declined. Angler harvest was partly to blame. The fishing ethic at the time was hook and cook, and biologists documented that bass populations could be severely depleted in just a few weeks after a new impoundment opened. Minimum-length limits and lower harvest limits were implemented to maintain bass abundance. Biologists also attributed the decline to a boom-and-bust cycle in which the high productivity of a newly impounded reservoir declined after the abundant nutrients from the newly flooded land were used up.

With numbers of avid bass anglers surging upward and bass tournaments growing, conservation of bass populations became a concern. Using bass tournaments as a stage and with strong media support, the practice of catch and release (C&R) spread rapidly through the bass-fishing community. Today, live-release rates among bass anglers are 85 to 95 percent. Black bass are as abundant as ever in most waters. Indeed, many fishery managers assert that the lack of harvest has diminished the effectiveness of selective harvest regulations, like slot limits, designed to improve bass growth and size structure. With lakes full of bass, catch rates should be high.

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More Inside This Issue:

Ned Fed Smallmouths: Ned Rig Logic to the Rescue

Long ago, the lab rats at Berkley described to us how a PowerBait Craw was more likely to get inhaled after a bass ripped off one of the claws. And, much to our surprise, the bait was even more appealing to largemouths when both claws were bitten off. Tha

Walleye-Forage Connections: Baitfish Patterns in Play

When you follow the baitfish they take you straight to the walleyes. But their diet is often so diverse, a reflection in part of their diversity, plasticity, and geographic ever-presence that you're left scratching your head and wondering, what baitfish should you shadow? “When you look at the walleyes' native range, it's astounding,” says Nick Baccante, who worked in Ontario's prestigious Walleye Research Unit that wrote The Synopsis of Biological Data on the Walleye for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. “When you look at the differences in environmental conditions, from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to the Arctic Circle, it has taken eons for the adaptations to work. So walleyes are more resilient and adaptive than we give them credit for.”

Magic Maneuvers for Esox: Tactical Glidebaiting and Top Options

There's something magical about glidebaits for tempting big pike. They may not be the most productive category of baits. Nor are they the most versatile across a broad range of conditions. However, if you don't have them in your pike arsenal, you're missing out on a big-fish producer that succeeds when other baits fail. Some might read the above and question the breadth of its meaning. It's not as nonsensical as when Yogi Berra was asked to explain jazz music and replied, “I can't, but I will. Ninety percent of all jazz is half improvisation.” There's a measure of truth and sensibility to these statements. The art of fishing glidebaits is akin to jazz music. Both require a good deal of technique, discipline, and practice, but the mastery comes from the improvisation. Ask me to explain it. I can't, but I will.

Cast-Net Cats: Catch Bait Like the Pros

It's widely assumed that fresh bait outfishes frozen, unless, of course, it takes all day to gather. Slice into a fresh-caught shad and the enzymes and juices flow. Trim off part of that same fish an hour later and the difference makes an impact on the fishing. A variety of baits including cutbait, sourbait, and other natural baits like nightcrawlers and chicken livers, along with commercially prepared baits, work well for channel cats. Flatheads lean toward live baitfish and at times, fresh cutbait. For blue catfish, fresh whole or cut baitfish is most often the key to success, and fresh means being caught within a few hours of use and either kept alive or chilled. For avid blue cat anglers and guides who know the value of freshly caught baitfish, you'll find one or more cast nets on their list of must-have equipment.

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