FISHING DURING THE SPAWN
DOES IT HARM BASS POPULATIONS?
by Jim Porter
If you want to start a long and heated argument among a group of bass anglers, simply ask if fishing should be
prohibited during the spawning season. Carry the question a
step further in level of detail and ask if organized
tournament fishing should be banned during the period. While
logic and emotion might tend to make most respondents reply
positively to both queries, formal studies indicate that
fishing during the spawn, even if specifically for trophies,
does not appear to harm the Florida bass populations.
Surveys indicate that anglers have seven general
concerns regarding 'bed fishing' for bass:
In determining the possible validity of these concerns,
we reviewed study findings available from a number of
sources: the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission
(FG&FWFC), the University of Florida (Lake George program),
the University of Alabama, and the Texas Fish and Game
Department. The following remarks, keyed to the seven
concerns noted above, are extracted from those findings.
- Major, organized tournaments and the attendant
professional anglers catch too many bedding bass.
- Even if 'catch-and-release' is practiced (such
as in tournaments), removing the bass from
their spawning areas and the stress imposed on
the fish will prevent a spawn from taking place.
- It constitutes 'unsportsmanlike conduct'.
- Results in over-harvest of the trophy
- The taking of the larger spawning bass
gradually depletes the trophy gene pool.
- It disturbs the spawning site and causes the
bass to leave and not spawn.
- It results in insufficient reproduction and the
negative effects on later year group
The idea that the 'Pro' tournament anglers catch so many
bass that they pose a threat to the fishery is easily
dispelled. Comparisons of nationwide data have shown that
the average success rates of the professionals (in terms
of fish caught per hour) are only very slightly better than
non-tournament fishermen. (The average bass angler catches
approximately 1.5 bass per eight-hour day, or slightly less
than .19 bass per hour). Granted, some professionals do
catch a lot of bass, but they are a very small percentage of
the whole. The low numbers of fish caught in major
tournaments, given the total man-hours expended, is very
surprising. To prove this to yourself, insert the results of
any given tournament into the following equation and note the
catch rates. (BassMaster and Bass'N Gal magazines provide
detailed tournament results and are good sources for this
"If a big female (bass) hasn't spawned yet and is
released in good shape, then it is likely she will spawn,"
notes Clarence Bowling, biologist in charge of the Jasper,
Texas fish hatchery. He noted that the Texas Fish and Game
Department categorized 425 tournament-caught bass by sex and
then transported them 12 miles to concrete holding troughs.
The next day, they were moved another 400 miles to spawning
ponds at the Dundee Hatchery in Wichita Falls. Although
this study is not yet complete, initial indications are that
there was a very high spawn rate.
Whether taking a spawning bass off the bed is ethical,
or not, is a personal issue. Contrary to some beliefs, a
bedding bass is NOT easy to catch, particularly the big
females. It is true that the small males are often
aggressive in their guardian duties, but the trophy fish, the
one most anglers are aiming for, is very difficult to catch.
The FG&FWFC reports that more trophy bass are harvested just
prior to and just after the actual spawning period, when they
are more active. Therefore, available data indicates that
bed fishing in no way results in what some refer to as 'over-
Regarding the depletion of the gene pool, it must be
noted that the large bedding bass have obviously contributed
many, many offspring to the population over the previous
spawning years. Consequently, if their genes are superior,
they have more than made their contribution back to the
continuation and betterment of the species.
As previously noted in the Texas study of tournament-
caught bass, a bass moved from a specific spawning area
apparently has no trouble spawning in another. Therefore,
disturbing the spawning site or scaring the bass away
probably has no effect on the eventual spawn.
Obviously, taking a spawn-ready female from the bed
will, if she is killed, reduce the numbers of young bass
produced. However, Nature has a very definite way of
insuring the survival of enough of the young to maintain the
population density at a specified level. If too many young
are hatched, their mortality rate is high; and, the reverse
appears true if there is a poor spawn. Phil Chapman, a
senior biologist with the FG&FWFC's Lakeland headquarters
reports that it takes only a very few spawning females to
successfully maintain the bass population of a body of water.
Chapman stated, "If the female bass population of a lake were
reduced to only two, those two would be sufficient to fully
restock the lake to the natural population density."
Major tournament promoters have realized that the future
of there programs may well lie in their efforts and success
towards preserving and sustaining the fishery resource.
Aerated live-wells, chemical treatments to reduce infection
and lower stress levels, and controlled-temperature holding
tanks are a few of the current methods employed to protect
the catch until release. And, it appears that these
procedures are working. Dr. Hobson Bryan, of the University
of Alabama, gathered data on a number of major Bass Angler
Sportsman Society tournaments held in Texas, Arkansas and
Alabama in 87-88. Bass were monitored at the weigh-ins and
for 18-25 days thereafter while in holding tanks. Dr.
Bryan's findings support the Society's claim that they kill
few of their catch, in that 98 percent of the monitored bass
survived with no ill effects.
So, whether it's tournament anglers going after spawning
bass or just catching all the bass in your lake that concerns
you, it appears that you have nothing to worry about. The
Pro's don't do much better than the rest of us.
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