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Experimental bass regulation has positives and negatives

Doug Kingsley and I agree on a lot of issues. The Park Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor has a tough position, attempting to act in the best interest of lakeshore owners, anglers, outdoors enthusiasts and of course, the wildlife itself.

But last Wednesday we had to agree to disagree.

The issue, a proposed experimental regulation for both largemouth and smallmouth bass on Lake Belle Taine, had us each defending our views while courteously acknowledging the other's position.

Kingsley has data compiled by a team of fisheries experts, which includes sampling numbers via several methods: Spring electrofishing, tournament weigh-ins, tournament angler team reporting, DNR staff angling, general public reports, and fall electrofishing.

During this study, 835 largemouth bass and 106 smallmouth bass were captured by electrofishing between May 7 and June 6, 2007. Each was marked with an individually numbered T-anchor tag and a tail punch to estimate tag loss. Only bass eight inches or larger were marked.

Some people who are opposed to the regulation include expert anglers and weekend warriors who spend numerous hours casting into the clear blue water of Lake Belle Taine.

These anglers experience both the highs and lows of bass fishing activity throughout the seasons and are open to the idea of an experimental bass regulation on area lakes, but believe Belle Taine isn't the right choice.

The proposed regulation calls for all bass, both largemouth and smallmouth between the lengths of 12 to 20 inches, to be immediately released. Anglers may keep one "trophy" fish over 20 inches.

The evaluation period for the experimental regulation would span over a course of nine years, with sampling scheduled to be completed by electrofishing in 2011, 2014 and 2017.

When the DNR compiled its information, a range of 5,700 to 11,000 largemouth bass was the population estimate after considering the various recapture methods. An estimate of 8,000 largemouth bass is very close to the most precise estimates and to the mean and median of all estimates, so that was used for the purposes of the study.

Only a single estimate of 550 smallmouth bass was possible.

Kingsley's view is that although the bass population may seem rather substantial, there's room for improvement. A well-rounded increase in average fish size is possible due to several factors, including the availability of prime spawning areas and natural habitat.

Specific goals are to increase the proportion of preferred size (15 inch or longer) largemouth bass in spring electrofishing catches to at least 20 to maintain or improve the proportion of memorable size (20 inch or longer) largemouth bass to one or greater.

However, some anglers opposing the proposal feel that limiting harvest could actually decrease the overall size because of too many large fish. They contend that anglers, resident or not, should be able to keep a few bass to eat if so inclined.

Some members of the Park Rapids Bass Club, at their year-end meeting this past week, offered support for the idea of the experimental regulation, but on a different body of water besides Lake Belle Taine. Club members were open to the idea of a brainstorming session with the DNR and were additionally willing to volunteer time and labor to help out with projects that positively impact the size and populations of bass on various lakes.

Kingsley has some good points. So do the anglers who oppose the Belle Taine experimental regulation. Fortunately, everyone has an opportunity to voice his or her input in a public forum next Wednesday, Sept. 10, in the conference room at Northwoods Bank in Park Rapids. The meeting is open to anyone interested in attending.