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Smallmouth issue is still heating up

by Kathy Etling

SPECIAL TO THE POST-DISPATCH

12/27/2009

 

Last week's Outdoors column dealt with the recent Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Smallmouth Bass White Paper Summary and some of the controversy that has erupted, especially among diehard smallmouth anglers, after it was issued.

 

(Read the White Paper at http://www.mdc4.mdc.mo.gov/Documents/21370.pdf).

 

Some anglers like Al Agnew, of Ste. Genevieve give the department credit for trying to do something to improve what many outdoorsmen and women believe is — or could be — the state's premier fishery. Agnew posted, at www.ozarkanglers.com, "I think (MDC was) trying to come up with a simple formula when it came to the (establishment of Smallmouth Management Areas) SMAs. Pick a stretch of river, put a one-fish, 15-inch length limit on that stretch and see what happens. I don't think that's good enough.

 

"In any other (region) that is well-known for stream smallmouth fishing a 15-inch fish is decent, but (not) a big fish," Agnew continued. "In all the better places that I've fished, 18-inch fish are pretty common and 20-inchers are present in good numbers. If I can go to the John Day (River) in Oregon, the upper Mississippi and St. Croix in Minnesota, the New and Shenandoah in Virginia, as well as many other streams and catch 20-inch fish on each trip (most without a guide), that's world class smallmouth fishing, and we don't have it here. Most of those streams have more restrictive limits than (here). The people in charge of regulations on those streams know they have world class angling, and they want to keep it. Here in Missouri we know we have good fishing for numbers (of smallmouth), and it seems that's good enough."

 

 

Judging from the results of a poll conducted at last year's St. Louis Boat and Sports Show, by the St. Louis-based Missouri Smallmouth Alliance (MSA), not everyone feels that good fishing for numbers of smallmouth is good enough. Answers to the poll's questions were provided by 236 respondents, according to Dan Kreher, of MSA, who tabulated the results.

 

Rivers, streams and creeks were fished for smallmouth by 83 percent of those polled, while 37 percent fished lakes and impoundments. (Some respondents fished both types of water).

 

When asked if they were satisfied with the number of smallmouth bass they caught in Missouri, 59 percent replied yes, while 35 percent said no.

 

Only 35 percent were satisfied with the size of the smallmouth they caught in Missouri. A whopping 65 percent were not satisfied.

 

"Various angler surveys conducted both in the Ozarks and around the country generally indicate that stream anglers consider fish upwards of 14- to 15-inches in length as respectable," stated Kreher. "Fish in this size range, while decent by Ozark standards, would rate as just average in other smallmouth bass locales around North America."

 

The catch-and-release of legal-sized smallmouth has really caught on in Missouri, judging by the 75 percent of respondents who said they 'always' practice catch-and-release. Another 18 percent usually practices it, 7 percent sometimes will do so, and 0 percent never does.

 

Catching several smallmouth during a single trip rates high with 91 percent of those polled, while catching large smallmouth is very important to 89 percent of them. Catching smallmouth to eat is very important to only 22 percent of those taking the poll.

 

Four out of five respondents also provided input on potential statewide regulation changes as they pertain to smallmouth bass. A 14-inch minimum statewide length limit was supported by 64 percent; a 15-inch minimum length limit by 59 percent, and 18-inch minimum length limit was supported by 51 percent.

 

A reduced daily limit of four smallmouth per day was supported by 55 percent of respondents, while 61 percent were in favor of a 3 per day limit and 59 percent supported a reduction to 2 per day.

 

An amazing 84 percent would support a smallmouth catch-and-release regulation on a particular reach of a stream.

 

Slot limits also scored well, with 69 percent supporting the release of 12-15-inch smallmouth, and 66 percent in favor of releasing all smallies between 12 and 18 inches in length.

 

One poster on the Ozark Anglers forum wrote, "The New River (in Virginia) has a 5 bass in the aggregate limit, a protected 14-20 inch slot (on smallmouth), with only one bass 20 inch or larger per day. It's worth a shot (in Missouri)."

 

Surfing the Virginia Department of Wildlife and Inland Fisheries' website garnered a report stating 80 percent of New River anglers that had been surveyed during a 2007 poll were happy with the daily creel and slot limit on the New River.

 

"Admittedly, the (MSA-St. Louis Boat and Sports Show) survey results have their limitations including both a relatively small sample size and an obvious lack of geographic diversity among those polled," explained Kreher. "A more comprehensive angler survey, canvassing avid smallmouth bass anglers from across the state, would certainly help provide additional direction to the MDC's overall management plan for smallmouth bass in Missouri."

 

"While there is much to be learned from smallmouth bass management in other states, direct comparisons to Missouri streams are difficult," responded John Ackerson, an MDC fisheries biologist based in West Plains. "Ozark streams are unique, as is every smallmouth bass fishery, but a regulation that functions well on one stream may not be appropriate on another."

 

Ackerson explained that MDC's recent Smallmouth White Paper is merely "a part of the process and doesn't represent all that will be done for smallmouth bass in Missouri." Ackerson said that just because some stretches of streams haven't yet been given special protection doesn't mean that they won't receive such protection in the future. "It's a process," he reiterated, "and it's ongoing. Factors that must be considered include smallmouth biology, and what works for a particular stream or stretch of stream, coupled with social considerations.

 

"The Missouri Department of Conservation appreciates the passion that Missourians have for the outdoors," Ackerson said in conclusion. "Smallmouth bass anglers are among Missouri's most ardent conservationists and valued conservation partners, and their opinions — and the opinions of all the state's anglers — are important to us. As the future of smallmouth bass management in Missouri evolves, MDC biologists plan to consider ways to obtain solid input from this wide spectrum of Missouri anglers."

 

To learn more about the Missouri Smallmouth Alliance, contact Matt Wier (wierfish@yahoo.com; 314-647-1679) or Steve Harrison (srharrison@charter.net; 636-220-6258) or go online to www.missourismallmouthalliance.org.

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