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"The cool spring means the bass are spawning later than normal," says Steve Avelallemant, Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor in northern Wisconsin. "They're going to be easier to fish because they will still be on the beds in many waters on opening day of the harvest season."
Avelallemant encourages anglers to enjoy the fast action but consider practicing catch and release for a while longer, especially for large bass.
"Overall, we don’t have a huge concern, but one of the things that can happen when they are that vulnerable is you can overharvest large fish. So please let those big dogs go to complete spawning if you do happen to catch them," Avelallemant says.
Statewide, anglers tend to release far more bass than they keep: a statewide mail survey of anglers showed that only 550,335 of the 10,073,286 smallmouth and largemouth bass caught during the 2006-7 survey year were harvested, about 5.4 percent. .
There are waters in the northern zone, however, where DNR biologists are actively encouraging harvest of largemouth bass right out of the gate, although the reasons vary. These waters have no minimum length limit for all bass although most have few if any smallmouth present.
"On many of these waters largemouth bass have always been the dominant predator but they have become overabundant and slow growing," Avelallemant says. "They could use some thinning, especially of the small fish."
In other waters, where once naturally abundant walleye populations have declined, the DNR is encouraging harvest of expanding largemouth bass populations as one measure to help rehabilitate walleye populations.
"Take a look in the regulations pamphlet under the county headings to find those waters with have no minimum length for bass," Avelallemant says. Most of these waters also will have signs posted at the landings.
Chippewa Flowage largemouth bass regulations change
The Chippewa Flowage in Sawyer County is one of those waters where walleye are in decline. It's also a water which has good numbers of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The DNR is encouraging anglers to harvest largemouth bass by removing the 14-inch size limit for largemouth bass only. That regulation takes effect with the June 18 start of the “harvest” fishing season in the northern zone. The 14-inch size limit remains in effect for smallmouth bass, and biologists are encouraging people to release all smallmouth bass caught, even legal sized ones.
“This is a test case on the separation of these species, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass,” Avelallemant says. “It is a focused effort and it results from the slow growth rates of largemouth bass in this particular flowage. Smallmouth bass growth rates are not as slow, however.”
There also is a concern that the abundant largemouth bass populations may be one of the factors potentially impacting the walleye population in the Chippewa Flowage by eating young walleyes, says Dave Neuswanger, DNR fisheries team supervisor at Hayward.
"The crux of the matter is what was historically a top producing walleye fishery is declining and the bass harvest portion is one potential element in the rehabilitation," Avelallemant says.
The DNR used its authority to change the regulation on a temporary basis due to slow growth rates effective with the June 18 harvest season opener and until a long-term rule can be developed through the usual rule-making process.
To help determine that long-term rule, the DNR will conduct extensive surveys of anglers on the Chippewa Flowage during the 2011 fishing season. Fisheries scientists will be able to estimate harvest of largemouth bass and other species to see if the new regulation works as hoped.
"To date, we have marked 540 largemouth bass that our creel clerks will be watching for as they interview anglers who have harvested bass," Neuswanger says. "We hope to get an estimate of the exploitation rate of largemouths based on the proportion of marked fish seen by the clerks."
DNR and the Lake Chippewa Flowage Resort Association and Chippewa Flowage Area Property Owners Association are launching a comprehensive information campaign to help inform anglers of the new regulation for largemouth bass and to help provide information to so anglers can tell largemouth and smallmouth bass apart.
The Lake Chippewa Flowage Resort Association and Chippewa Flowage Area Property Owners Association are paying printing costs for posters for access area bulletin boards, flyers for posting at bait shops and fish cleaning houses around the lake, and flyers for posting in cabins and handing out to inquisitive anglers.
Key among those differences is that largemouth bass have, well, a large mouth. They also are dark green above, with a white belly, usually have a visible horizontal stripe along the side, and their upper jaw always extends beyond back of eye
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