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Smallmouth Management Question

gznokes

Well-Known Member
I've read some of Wayne's writings about smallmouth bass management. It sounds like Lake Powell has too many smallmouths and this tends to stunt their growth. From what I understand, to address this, Wayne lobbied to increase the limit to 20 fish and that his helped increase length and weight in subsequent surveys.

I was recently exposed to an idea that the best way to reduce fish populations is to remove breeding females, because they have hundreds or thousands of eggs. I'm sure I'm going to be roasted for asking this question, but I'll ask it anyway. If we want healthier populations of smallmouth bass in Lake Powell, shouldn't we advocate keeping as many fish as possible (up to the limit) and especially the large breeding females? I always hear people say to throw the big ones back, but it seems like that might contradict management goals.
 

Cliff

Well-Known Member
Would we have as many fishermen going after smallmouth if all the big ones were removed?
Less fishing pressure begets more fish.
 

Dorado

Escalante-Class Member
Would we have as many fishermen going after smallmouth if all the big ones were removed?
Less fishing pressure begets more fish.
Most anglers targeting big bass don’t keep any at all, so I am not sure that really is true. Personally, I think forage and habitat conditions really drive the bass population more than harvest at such a huge reservoir like Powell!
 

gznokes

Well-Known Member
Would we have as many fishermen going after smallmouth if all the big ones were removed?
Less fishing pressure begets more fish.
Most anglers targeting big bass don’t keep any at all, so I am not sure that really is true. Personally, I think forage and habitat conditions really drive the bass population more than harvest at such a huge reservoir like Powell!
Based on these comments, I went back and read Wayne’s article about the history of SMB. He does not advocate killing the larger bass.

Here is what he wrote:
>
The smallmouth story was more about effective management. There was a time when they were little and scrawny. The population was way too large for existing conditions and available forage. The writings below chronicle how we overcame the tough times by increasing harvest and changing attitudes. Thought you might like to relive the experience:
Catch and Release - Or Keep?
My career as a biologist is unique in that I have spent my whole time on one body of water. I love Lake Powell! It is the second largest reservoir in America and has incredibly diverse fishery dynamics. There has never been time to get tired of doing the same old thing. There is new challenge each day.

I wrote this in the summer of 2001.
"Spent yesterday morning by myself in meditation concerning "my lake" and how to help it. I went to Navajo Canyon fishing for smallmouth and stripers. Found both and really enjoyed it. But my reason for being there was to finally decide what to do about the smallmouth growth slowdown. We need to harvest more fish. Most folks do not keep smallmouth. Only 5-11% of all fish caught get harvested. We have been struggling with increasing the creel limit knowing that if anglers kept 6 fish (current limit) it would help. But if we don't keep 6 fish now how will raising the limit solve the over population problem.

Obviously the question is more about education and less about numbers. So I caught and kept 6 smallmouth. Then I filleted them. It reminded me of the good old days when I filleted crappie. Fillet size and time spent was very reminiscent of crappie. But my little pile of fillets was a few short of a meal. So I caught 6 more fish and filleted them. Caught two fish better than 12 inches and released them. When I added the next batch of fillets to the pile there was just enough for a meal of real prime, thin, bite-sized, eating. Really reminded me of crappie then.

But we are talking about most visitors staying here for 3-5 days. It would be nice to have two meals when you return to CA, AZ, NV, UT or wherever. Not every one is going to keep smallmouth. The problem will still be convincing anyone to keep and fillet small fish. Those that do need to be rewarded and be able to make an impact.

So on my boat in Navajo Canyon, I decided to increase the smallmouth limit to 20 fish per day with 20 in possession. Law enforcement types do not want to separate bag and possession so I will honor their concern.
At the same time we will restrict crappie bag and possession to 10 fish to protect that population until they can find a filling reservoir condition with flooded brush which will allow them to bring off a good year class.
On January 1, 2002 a new regulation was enacted on Lake Powell that allowed anglers to keep 20 smallmouth bass. The number was not important. It could have been 10 or 30. The philosophical statement was the clincher. I wanted anglers to know that it was okay to keep a smallmouth bass. Catch and release was not working at Lake Powell. Catch and keep would help improve the fishery. Anglers responded to the new keeper philosophy by doubling the bass harvest. In 2002 and 2003 about 25% of bass caught were kept.

Fast forward to 2004. After only two years of "keeping bass" the fishery has responded in dramatic fashion. Shad forage is more abundant. Smallmouth bass are bigger and fatter. Bass tournaments held in 2002 saw winning average weights of less than 5 pounds for five 12-inch smallmouth bass. The first two tournaments held in 2004 had winning weights of over 9 pounds for five fish with a "big fish" over 3 pounds. The ratio of bass over 13 inches in the population (RSD) has improved from zero in 2000 to 20% in 2003. The outlook for 2004 is for continued bass growth and better quality fishing.

How does this work? Smallmouth targeted by our catch and keep program, those 9-11 inch bass, are the most aggressive predators. Young bass are naive, fearless and always hungry. By keeping the smaller, most aggressive bass, more food was made available for the older, wiser fish that were more selective in feeding habits. Keeping the larger bass would have had the opposite effect of leaving the most efficient predators and not freeing up enough additional forage. Anglers were given information about the goal of the bass harvest program and the target size fish to harvest. They responded with enthusiasm. This was a victory for angler education in action.

While it seems impossible for anglers to have any impact on over populated striped bass or smallmouth bass in a lake the size of Powell, the results suggest just the opposite. With over a million angler-hours expended each year, given a direction and purpose, there was enough angler impact to make a difference. By harvesting more fish, anglers played a significant role in changing the population structure of both the bass and striper populations.
The wild card is forage status. Natural cycles often determine good and bad shad production years. The bass harvest program was instituted at a time when shad numbers were low. Shad numbers improved in 2002 and 2003. There may have been improvement in bass growth without any harvest emphasis. But one thing is for sure. There were fewer mouths to feed when the shad population exploded meaning more shad for each predator. Smallmouth bass and striped bass health and growth improved in record time to levels beyond our wildest hopes.
We nailed this one perfectly! Thanks to every angler who kept a 9-inch bass from Lake Powell. Your reward awaits. Make a fishing trip here in 2004 and see what happened!
Creel limits changed in 2002.
SMALLMOUTH BASS LIMIT IS 20:
Please keep 20 bass of the most common size (9-12 inch). Release larger bass that are large enough to eat smaller bass and will help restore the proper size balance within the smallmouth population
 

PBH

Well-Known Member
gznokes and dorado are both right.

Harvest of smb in Powell by anglers won't hurt the population. It might help. It won't hurt. Habitat and forage are the key factors -- and Powell has hundreds of miles of good habitat (high natural recruitment).

Keeping large smb is not a bad thing. Harvested fish are QUICKLY replaced by other fish. Those "big" bass are replaced by other bass that quickly turn "big" to fill that void lost by the previous big fish. Further, you don't need "big" fish to keep reproduction high -- small bass reproduce too! It's not the genetics that made those "big" bass big, but rather opportunity and conditions (mentioned by dorado: habitat and forage). So, even the "little" bass can reproduce and create "big" bass.



the biggest thing to keep in mind with Powell is that it is a huge lake / system. As much as anglers want to think that we can affect the fishery, we are just a tiny little drop that affects fish populations. Anglers will never remove all the "big" fish. Other factors, like habitat and forage, play a much larger role in fish populations.

Regulations currently allow the harvest of 20 bass. You could probably double that to 40 and you'd still only get a small fraction of anglers that actually harvest that many bass. The 20 fish harvest regulation is most likely very under-utilized. Anglers should not feel any shame at all in keeping smb, whether big or small. To be honest, I would guess that the only reason we have a 20 fish harvest rule vs. no limit at all (like stripers) is for social reasons, not biological.


The most important part of Wayne's article is right here:
Wayne Gustaveson said:
I wanted anglers to know that it was okay to keep a smallmouth bass. Catch and release was not working at Lake Powell. Catch and keep would help improve the fishery.
He does not distinguish whether to keep females vs. males, or big vs. little. He simply states that catch and keep would help improve the fishery. I would recommend taking his advice.
 

Meatwagon

Escalante-Class Member
Keeping a limit of smallies can be accomplished most days in the spring and fall without to much trouble in my experience. I usually fill the livewell with 12 to 14in. on the last day of the trip to take home and enjoy. I prefer this size for the fryer.
 

wayne gustaveson

Moderator
Staff member
Based on these comments, I went back and read Wayne’s article about the history of SMB. He does not advocate killing the larger bass.

Here is what he wrote:
>
The smallmouth story was more about effective management. There was a time when they were little and scrawny. The population was way too large for existing conditions and available forage. The writings below chronicle how we overcame the tough times by increasing harvest and changing attitudes. Thought you might like to relive the experience:
Catch and Release - Or Keep?
My career as a biologist is unique in that I have spent my whole time on one body of water. I love Lake Powell! It is the second largest reservoir in America and has incredibly diverse fishery dynamics. There has never been time to get tired of doing the same old thing. There is new challenge each day.

I wrote this in the summer of 2001.
"Spent yesterday morning by myself in meditation concerning "my lake" and how to help it. I went to Navajo Canyon fishing for smallmouth and stripers. Found both and really enjoyed it. But my reason for being there was to finally decide what to do about the smallmouth growth slowdown. We need to harvest more fish. Most folks do not keep smallmouth. Only 5-11% of all fish caught get harvested. We have been struggling with increasing the creel limit knowing that if anglers kept 6 fish (current limit) it would help. But if we don't keep 6 fish now how will raising the limit solve the over population problem.

Obviously the question is more about education and less about numbers. So I caught and kept 6 smallmouth. Then I filleted them. It reminded me of the good old days when I filleted crappie. Fillet size and time spent was very reminiscent of crappie. But my little pile of fillets was a few short of a meal. So I caught 6 more fish and filleted them. Caught two fish better than 12 inches and released them. When I added the next batch of fillets to the pile there was just enough for a meal of real prime, thin, bite-sized, eating. Really reminded me of crappie then.

But we are talking about most visitors staying here for 3-5 days. It would be nice to have two meals when you return to CA, AZ, NV, UT or wherever. Not every one is going to keep smallmouth. The problem will still be convincing anyone to keep and fillet small fish. Those that do need to be rewarded and be able to make an impact.

So on my boat in Navajo Canyon, I decided to increase the smallmouth limit to 20 fish per day with 20 in possession. Law enforcement types do not want to separate bag and possession so I will honor their concern.
At the same time we will restrict crappie bag and possession to 10 fish to protect that population until they can find a filling reservoir condition with flooded brush which will allow them to bring off a good year class.
On January 1, 2002 a new regulation was enacted on Lake Powell that allowed anglers to keep 20 smallmouth bass. The number was not important. It could have been 10 or 30. The philosophical statement was the clincher. I wanted anglers to know that it was okay to keep a smallmouth bass. Catch and release was not working at Lake Powell. Catch and keep would help improve the fishery. Anglers responded to the new keeper philosophy by doubling the bass harvest. In 2002 and 2003 about 25% of bass caught were kept.

Fast forward to 2004. After only two years of "keeping bass" the fishery has responded in dramatic fashion. Shad forage is more abundant. Smallmouth bass are bigger and fatter. Bass tournaments held in 2002 saw winning average weights of less than 5 pounds for five 12-inch smallmouth bass. The first two tournaments held in 2004 had winning weights of over 9 pounds for five fish with a "big fish" over 3 pounds. The ratio of bass over 13 inches in the population (RSD) has improved from zero in 2000 to 20% in 2003. The outlook for 2004 is for continued bass growth and better quality fishing.

How does this work? Smallmouth targeted by our catch and keep program, those 9-11 inch bass, are the most aggressive predators. Young bass are naive, fearless and always hungry. By keeping the smaller, most aggressive bass, more food was made available for the older, wiser fish that were more selective in feeding habits. Keeping the larger bass would have had the opposite effect of leaving the most efficient predators and not freeing up enough additional forage. Anglers were given information about the goal of the bass harvest program and the target size fish to harvest. They responded with enthusiasm. This was a victory for angler education in action.

While it seems impossible for anglers to have any impact on over populated striped bass or smallmouth bass in a lake the size of Powell, the results suggest just the opposite. With over a million angler-hours expended each year, given a direction and purpose, there was enough angler impact to make a difference. By harvesting more fish, anglers played a significant role in changing the population structure of both the bass and striper populations.
The wild card is forage status. Natural cycles often determine good and bad shad production years. The bass harvest program was instituted at a time when shad numbers were low. Shad numbers improved in 2002 and 2003. There may have been improvement in bass growth without any harvest emphasis. But one thing is for sure. There were fewer mouths to feed when the shad population exploded meaning more shad for each predator. Smallmouth bass and striped bass health and growth improved in record time to levels beyond our wildest hopes.
We nailed this one perfectly! Thanks to every angler who kept a 9-inch bass from Lake Powell. Your reward awaits. Make a fishing trip here in 2004 and see what happened!
Creel limits changed in 2002.
SMALLMOUTH BASS LIMIT IS 20:
Please keep 20 bass of the most common size (9-12 inch). Release larger bass that are large enough to eat smaller bass and will help restore the proper size balance within the smallmouth population
I remember the days processing what to do about the smallmouth fishery situation. The explanation given above seemed like the logical approach to solving the "small" smallmouth problem". I am grateful to my administrators in Salt Lake for accepting my ideas and increasing the limit.

Now I am concerned once more about the average size of smallmouth and numbers in Lake Powell after this super low water situation we now face with the current drought. A good winter will help with a good spawn in 2022. For now - keep harvesting smallmouth to keep the population in check in the very low water situation we now face. WG
 

Edward Gerdemann

Well-Known Member
Smallmouth are a ball to catch and very good to eat. In my 26 years of seriously fishing Lake Powell I'm always amazed at how few people target smallmouth bass. I have had many trips when I didn't see another smallmouth angler. Even during bass tournaments most competing anglers are targeting the bigger largemouth leaving most smallmouth relatively undisturbed. I'm proud to say I've tried to do my part over the years for the smallmouth fishery and will continue to do so. They are by far my favorite fish and have been since I caught my first one at age 4 on Sinkin (true spelling) Creek in the Missouri Ozarks.

By the way, the bluegrass group the Dillards did a song called Sinkin Creek as they were from Salem, MO, which is fairly close to the creek. Just a wortheless piece of trivia! :D

Ed Gerdemann
 
Smallmouth are a ball to catch and very good to eat. In my 26 years of seriously fishing Lake Powell I'm always amazed at how few people target smallmouth bass. I have had many trips when I didn't see another smallmouth angler. Even during bass tournaments most competing anglers are targeting the bigger largemouth leaving most smallmouth relatively undisturbed. I'm proud to say I've tried to do my part over the years for the smallmouth fishery and will continue to do so. They are by far my favorite fish and have been since I caught my first one at age 4 on Sinkin (true spelling) Creek in the Missouri Ozarks.

By the way, the bluegrass group the Dillards did a song called Sinkin Creek as they were from Salem, MO, which is fairly close to the creek. Just a wortheless piece of trivia! :D

Ed Gerdemann
I've had many fine days fishing the Ozarks for smallies back in my younger days! A truly special place.
 

Edward Gerdemann

Well-Known Member
I've had many fine days fishing the Ozarks for smallies back in my younger days! A truly special place.
Where did you fish in the Ozarks? We fished rivers like the Big Piney, Current River, Jack's Fork, Black, St. Francois, Big River, Huzzah Creek and many other smaller streams. Sinkin Creek runs into Current River a couple miles above Round Springs. It was my favorite small wading stream to fish. It had more big smallmouth in it than other comparable streams. My dad geologically mapped that area in the late 50s doing mineral exploration, and he discovered the Sinkin Creek smallmouth while working. Of course he came back on an off-day with a fishing rod. He found a lot of other neat out of the way places to fish while doing field work. He found some great squirrel hunting spots as well.

We did a lot of lake fishing, too, mostly on Bull Shoals; however we did fish Table Rock, Norfolk, Greers Ferry, Wapapello and Clearwater as well as a lot of smaller lakes and ponds. :)

Ed Gerdemann
 
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