Bass fishing during the spawn: an experiment

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Bass 1
Competitive bass fishing is moving into the spawn in Pennsylvania this spring.

Now it’s a matter of finding a date.

Last fall, PA Bass Nation leaders approached the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission about being able to conduct tournaments during the bass spawn. Traditionally, they aren’t permitted between mid-April and mid-June

Commissioners said then they were open to the idea.

They proved that this week – albeit with some conditions.

The commission said it will allow the group to conduct one tournament on Presque Isle Bay in Erie this spring. It will have to meet some terms, however.

Most notably, competitors – no more than 50 will be allowed – won’t weigh in their fish. Instead, this will be a “catch, photo and immediate release” tournament.

What that means is anglers will catch a fish, take a photo of it on a measuring board with a special identifying marker provided the day of the event to prove when it was caught, then release it on site.

That’s how kayak bass tournaments are run, said Andy Shiels, director of the commission’s bureau of fisheries.

For the sake of competitors, who are scored on the weight of their fish in all other events during the season, the commission will provide weight estimates based on length. It has averages like that not only for bass, but other species.

Competitors will also have to record every bass they catch and turn in any bass that die.

That’s a lot, Shiels admitted. But the goal is to be conservative, he added.

“We’ll crawl before we walk,” agreed commissioner Ed Mascharka of Erie County.

That’s because the impact of tournaments during the spawn is largely unknown, Shiels said.

North of Pennsylvania, they’re thought to be potentially devastating, he said, with the chances of all the eggs on a nest being consumed by predators growing the longer a bass is missing. South of the state, bass populations are traditionally so dense they’re considered inconsequential.

“We don’t know” what the impact might be here, he said.

That’s why the catch, photo, immediate release aspect of the tournament is so important. Shiels said the hope is that it will take no more than a minute – and less with smaller fish that aren’t likely to figure into an angler’s score – to get a hooked fish back in the water.

One commissioner said he doesn’t think the potential risk to bass is worth allowing a tournament.

“At this point, I don’t support it,” said Norm Gavlick of Luzerne County. “You’ve got 11 other months to fish.”

No one else on the board raised any objections, however. And Mascharka suggested that if the tournament goes well, without any noticeable impact on bass, perhaps the rules governing it could be incorporated into the commission’s black bass management plan. That could, conceivably, open the way for similar tournaments run under similar rules on other waters going forward.

This tournament will perhaps show if that’s possible or wise, Shiels said.

“We’re trying to allow this and minimize the impact,” Shiels said.

The one thing left to be decided is just the exact date tournament will be held. Mascharka said the commission and Bass Nation agreed to the parameters of the event in a conference call.

Club officials, though, indicated they need to figure out when it might fit into their schedule.

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