Thursday, July 7, 2016

Florida Black Bass Length Limit Regulations and How They Impact Bass Fishing in Orlando

At the end of June Florida enacted new statewide harvesting regulations for all species of bass. This new regulation will have equal numbers of proponents and opponents from each side arguing their points. Even though my living is based on the quality of our bass population my view on this is as objective as possible but realistically its hard to be against anything that can possibly have a positive impact on a resource.

The old regulations allowed anglers to possess 5 bass above 14 inches with only one being allowed to be above 21. Those length limits were in place for many years and the result of decimation to lakes in the state that were the result of no limits or management in place at the time. The time allowed to determine if those regulations were working was a positive in my mind especially considering we went from no limits to a limit.

During the initial regulation many things changed in the world of bass fishing, technology and social impacts from the age of internet. These impacts played more of a role in the declining success of the old regulations than the regulations themselves. Essentially, times were changing rapidly and for those of us who have lived here our whole lives it was obvious a change was needed.

Now this isn't to say people here in Orlando or the state of Florida were screaming for changes. This is where I have to applaud the state for being proactive. Yes, anglers in the state are vocal and involved but most of the time it has to do with plant management or management of an individual lake. Local anglers are predominantly tournament competitors so catch and release is popular so they didn't have much reason. Anglers who used to keep bass have moved on to crappie, bluegills and bream and aren't the type to complain.

In this case I truly believe the trend of today where anglers are influenced on where to fish based on social media, BASS and FLW tournament results which are real time. Or in the case of Florida, the best place to go for big bass in the winter was more of a deciding factor on what changes were needed.

The issue with the latter is when no one else can fish, our bass are spawning. And in no fault of those who come down to experience this, bass that are trying to reproduce are under attack at the highest point of the year. They are also in areas that make them most vulnerable. Bed fishing with shiners might be considered cheating at the worst for tournament anglers but for tourists coming to catch and eat their legal catch it's all the rage.

Can you blame them? I might not like it and definitely don't agree with it but they have been in their right to do this. Unfortunately, there have been many occasions where visiting anglers would come with 3 to a boat, catch a legal limit, (15 with 3 over 21) and take them to shore. Put them in a cooler, come back out and repeat the process. And when they come, they fish all day non stop. This process has been a factor in our trophy bass populations but to be clear, it is not the only one.

These anglers will be impacted the most from this new regulation where 5 bass can be kept with no minimum size restriction and of those 5 only one can be over 16 inches. Because of the believe that if they are spending money to catch bass, they should be able to eat their catch for a meal and get a return. And historically, keeping the biggest bass possible was part of the process.

Anytime I talk to someone about eating bass it seems that almost all agree that a 2-3 lb bass is the best to eat. But speaking from childhood experience, that isn't what happens. My family were some of the worst offenders of keeping and killing trophy bass without thought every weekend. Seeing a big bass getting filleted was not a rare thing in my house and it left an impression. Mostly because if you lived in that era and still fish as I do, you know how different times are.

The new regulations have some foundation in Ray Scott's philosophy of properly harvesting a fishery to help increase trophy bass populations. Smaller fish are always the most aggressive and make competing for food more difficult for larger bass that evolve into ambush predators as they get larger. Weeding out smaller bass has been proven to be the most successful tool for increasing trophy bass populations.

An immediate benefit of the new law will be the cost required to catch a bass if your intent to keep it. Wild Shiners have always been the best option for catching trophy bass. But now, an angler can go out and use minnows, crickets and night crawlers to catch a limit of crappie and bass at the same time. Previously the bass caught while crappie fishing would be too small to keep but now that will change. This should result in increased numbers of anglers who can keep bass compared to before the new regulations. Best of all, the increase in harvested bass wont mean a decrease in large bass numbers.

For those coming to catch a trophy, the odds have the potential to go up and best of all a trophy bass can become more of a photo op rather than a meal. Steve Boyd
Owner - Florida Bass Adventures