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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:
  1. Major, organized tournaments and the attendant professional anglers catch too many bedding bass.
  2. 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.
  3. It constitutes 'unsportsmanlike conduct'.
  4. Results in over-harvest of the trophy population.
  5. The taking of the larger spawning bass gradually depletes the trophy gene pool.
  6. It disturbs the spawning site and causes the bass to leave and not spawn.
  7. It results in insufficient reproduction and the negative effects on later year group availabilities.
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.

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 information.)

"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- harvesting'.

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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