After reading Joe Balog's opinion piece, I hope someone provided him with a chill pill. I was anxiously waiting for his thoughts on this new law, especially after he railed against seeing anglers lining up on bass beds with live bait and keeping their catch. I don't think the same guy wrote both columns.
Here are some thoughts from someone who grew up here, has some knowledge of the history and can provide some context along with an opinion.
At the end of June. Florida enacted new statewide harvest regulations for all species of bass. This new regulation will have nearly equal numbers of proponents and opponents 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 it's hard to be against anything that can possibly have a positive impact on a resource.
The old regulations allowed anglers to possess five bass over 14 inches, with only one over 21 inches. Those length limits were in place for many years and were the result of decimation to lakes in the state due to 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 period, many things changed in the world of bass fishing, technology and social impacts from the age of the 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 and 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 is that anglers are influenced as to where to fish based on social media and B.A.S.S. 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 which changes were needed.
The issue with the latter is when no one else can fish due to weather, our bass are spawning. And through no fault of those who come down to experience this, bass that are trying to reproduce are under attack at the most critical point of the year. They are also in areas that make them most vulnerable. Bed-fishing with shiners might be considered cheating at its worst by 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 when visiting anglers would come with three people to a boat, catch a legal limit (15 with three over 21 inches) and take them to shore, then put them in a cooler and come back out and repeat the process. And when they come, they fish all day, non-stop. This process has been a negative 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 under which five bass can be kept with no minimum size restriction and of those five, only one can be over 16 inches. They're of the belief 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- to 3-pound fish 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 is 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 nightcrawlers 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 won't 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 a photo op instead of a meal.
(Steve Boyd is a full-time guide on Florida's Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. To visit his website, click here.)