Category Archives: Tournament Fishing

Flint River Bass Club Tournament At Lake Oconee

Just in time for the Flint River Bass Club tournament last Sunday winter decided to revisit our area. On a cold, rainy, windy day 12 members, one guest and one youth fished for up to eight hours to land 24 bass longer than the 14 inch minimum size on Lake Oconee. They weighed about 70 pounds. Those of us that stayed to the end had three limits but six people either zeroed or left early due to the weather.

Sam Smith had an incredible catch for our club of five keepers weighing 18.39 pounds. Sam’s big fish weighed 4.85 pounds so all of his other keepers were quality fish in the three to four pound range. Niles had what would usually be a winning weight but placed second with five at 15.72 and had big fish with a very nice 6.62 pounder. Niles is on a big fish roll this year!

I had what I thought was a really good catch with five at 13.64 pounds and placed third. New member Daniel Hinkelman placed fourth with five weighing 11.72 pounds. Kelly Chanbers had two keepers weighing 5.25 for fifth place. I was surprised at the number of bass weighing in that weighed in the four-pound range.

Kelly and I were very frustrated with the rain and wind that “burned” exposed skin, especially since we had one small keeper each at 1:30. I knew the fish should be shallow near bedding areas, even with the changing weather, since the water temperature was 59 degrees.

But no matter where we fished or what we tried we could not catch much. We did land several fish under the 14-inch limit but keepers were tough to find. Kelly got one on a rattle bait first thing then I caught one on a Carolina rig but those were the only two keepers. We had tried spinnerbaits, crankbaits, chatterbaits and several kinds of plastics.

Then at 1:30 in some brush in the very back of the cove I hooked and landed a 3.93 pound largemouth on a jig head worm from some brush. Working out of that cove I got my third keeper on a spinnerbait off a windblown dock, something I had tried dozens of casts without a bite. Then going into the next cove I landed another bass close to four pounds on a jig head worm.

We worked around that cove then Kelly got a 3.97 pound largemouth from some brush on a jig head worm. A few feet further up the bank I cast my jig head worm to a rock in about three feet of water and landed my fifth keeper, filling my limit with another bass close to four pounds.

That was it for the day, five keepers in one hour out of the eight we fished. At weigh-in I felt pretty good until I saw Sam’s and Niles’ great catches! Niles said he got the big one on a rattlebait and had, like me, only five keepers. Sam surprised me by saying he landed 22 keepers during the day, all on spinnerbaits, something I could not get a bite while fishing.

Just goes to show many patterns work most days even if they are not working for you, and also show you should never give up while fishing.

West Point February Club Tournament

Last Sunday 12 members of the Spalding County Sportsman Club fished our February tournament at West Point Lake. The day started cold and clear but warmed up before noon. We landed 52 bass weighing about 78 pounds. There were six five-fish limits an everyone caught at least one fish. There were only 11 largemouth more than 14 inches long and 41 spotted bass more than 12 inches long weighed in.

Kwong Yu won it all with five bass weighing an impressive 14.44 pounds and had big fish with a nice 6.40 pound largemouth. Sam Smith was a close second with five weighing 13.12 pounds. I came in a distant third with five at 7.01 pounds and Javin English came out of hibernation to place fourth with five at 6.83 pounds.

With the cold front that came through Saturday I expected fishing to be worse that it was. Cold and clear with bright sunlight is the worst kind of conditions this time of year to me, but the 59 to 61-degree stained water helped a good bit.

I had a feeling that if I went to this one point in a creek about five miles from where we took off I would catch a bass. I get that feeling rarely so I try to pay attention to it. That is what the pros do often, get a sixth sense about catching fish. It happens to me just a few times a year. Part of my feeling last Sunday was from catching some fish there the weekend before in a Potato Creek tournament.

Sam the tournament director let us go at 6:58. It was a perfect day for running fast if you were dressed for the cold and I saw 71.9 MPH on my GPS as I ran down the lake. When I stopped on the point I picked up a rattle bait and on about my third cast a keeper spot hit it. I put him in the livewell at 7:04 AM!

At 8:30 I put my fifth keeper in the livewell, filling my limit with four spots and one largemouth. But they were all just barely big enough to keep and all five probably did not weigh five pounds total. So I switched from a jig had worm and crankbaits for keeper fish to a big jig and pig for bigger fish. It didn’t work!

I kept switching back to the jig head worm just to catch something, and kept catching small fish. I wanted to keep some spots to eat so I was putting everything legal in the livewell. At 11:00 I stopped to check and had 11 keepers, one above the legal limit, so I let the two smallest go.

I kept trying to catch bigger fish, even moving out to brush in deep water, but still kept catching small spots. I put one of the biggest in the livewell but threw several back without even measuring them. Somehow at the end of the day I ended up bringing 13 spots home to eat. I caught at least 16 and maybe more.

Years ago I heard Roland Martin, one of the top pros at the time, say bass would not hit a spinnerbait on bright sunny days, so I have always had a mental problem fishing one under those conditions. Imagine my surprise when Kwong said the six pounder and another four pound largemouth hit a spinnerbait and Sam said most of his fish hit a spinnerbait, too. He had a 4.34 pound largemouth and another one over three pound.

It seems my “feeling” went only so far. I needed the feeling to throw a spinnerbait more. Maybe I would have caught something over two pounds since Kwong and Sam had the only fish over two pounds in the tournament I think!

Georgia Fishermen in Tournaments Big and Small

Congratulation to Chris Davies. Last Saturday while fishing as a co-angler at Lake Lanier in the FLW Bulldog Division BFL Chris landed a five-bass limit weighing 14 pounds, fifteen ounces and placed second out of 153 anglers. For second place, he won $1253. He also had big fish on the co-angler side with a six pound one ounce fish which added $382 to his total winnings of $1635.

Chris has been in local clubs for many years and fishes other tournament trails, too.

Two other Georgia anglers did very good in tournaments, too, while fishing the FLW Tour Series at Tavis Lake in Texas. The FLW Tour is the top trail in FLW and anglers can get in by invitation only, after qualifying through other trails like the BFLs.

Clayton Batts from Macon had 20 keeper bass weighing 48 pounds, one ounce in this four-day tournament. He won $17,000 for 7th place. In 8th place Troy Morrow of Eastanollee won $16,000 by catching 20 bass weighing 47 pounds, nine ounces.

In this tournament, 164 boaters and 164 co-anglers started the first day. After two days the top 20 boaters fish a third day and the rest go home, but anglers in 21st through 54th place do get money, with 21st getting $10,000 and 54th winning $4000.

After a third day, the top ten fish for a fourth day and 11th through 20th go home, but with winnings of $10,000 each. The final ten are the best of the best in that tournament and first place paid $100,000 plus a $25,000 bonus for fishing out of a Ranger boat. Tenth place pays $14,000.

Mark Rose, a pro angler from Arkansas, fishes out of a Ranger and has won the last two FLW Tour tournaments, for winnings of $250,000. So there is a lot of money in tournaments for top anglers.

The co-anglers fish only the first two days and the winner got $20,000 down to 54th place winning $700. Co-anglers fish from the back of the boat and have no say about where or how to fish, so they are at the mercy of the boater. Some boaters try to help their co-anglers, others don’t treat them so well. And of course, the entry fee is quite different between boater and co-angler.

On a local, much less expensive level the Potato Creek Bassmasters fished our February tournament at West Point lake last Saturday. Niles Murray won with five fish weighing a little over ten pounds, and had big fish with a largemouth weighing more than six pounds.

Dan Riddle was second with five weighing 9.04 pounds and my five weighing 9.03 pounds was third. Third place paid me $84! I think Raymond English placed fourth with eight pounds.

We had a warm but rainy day. The water temperature had dropped from 62 on Tuesday to 58 Saturday morning and with the clouds it did not warm during the day like we hoped it would. There was a Highland Marina Team Trail tournament that day. I do not know how many boats were in it but they took off 30 minutes before we did and the first four places I wanted to fish had at least two boats on them when I got there.

The fifth place was back in a big creek and there was only one boat there, fishing the right bank, the best one due to water depth. So I started on the left bank since I had already ridden around more than I wanted to. After a few minutes, I caught a small keeper spotted bass on a rattle bait but that was it in that creek.

I fished several more places, usually with other boats in sight, until noon without another bite. I was very frustrated. Fishing was supposed to be good!

At noon I ran into Whitewater Creek headed to a point that was on a Map of the Month article last March. My luck did not change, I could see another boat on it long before I got there, so I stopped on a point that I had never fished.

My first cast to that point produced a 2.5 pound largemouth. An hour later I caught my eight bass off that point, a 2.5 pound spot. The other two keepers there were just keeper spots and the other four were short largemouth and spots.

I fished there until 2:00 without getting any more bites, then hit three more places before our weigh-in, again with no bites. It was amazing how quiet the lake got after 2:00 since that is when the Highland tournament weighed in. The boats just disappeared. I heard it took five bass weighing 20 pounds to win that tournament.

For many years if I headed to a place I wanted to fish and a boat was already there I let it upset me. I would worry way too much about it and not be able to concentrate on catching bass. But one year at Eufaula, in a two-day tournament, on the second day I headed to a bank where I had caught several bass the first day.

When I got close I saw another fisherman had beat me to it. So I just went to the opposite bank in disgust and started fishing. I caught three nice keepers before getting to where the creek narrowed down and I was near the guy fishing where I had wanted to start. He told me he had not had a bite!

That taught me to ignore others and just fish, although sometimes it is hard to do!

November Sinclair Club Bass Tournament

Last Sunday 13 members of the Flint River Bass Club tried to catch keeper bass at Lake Sinclair in our November tournament. After eight hours of casting we brought 29 fish over the 12 inch limit, most of them just barely, weighing 37 pounds. There were three limits and two zeros.

Chuck Croft won with five weighing 6.70 pounds, Niles Murray placed second with five at 5.87 pounds and my limit of five fish weighed a whopping 4.36 pounds was fourth. JJ Polak, fishing with Chuck, caught only one fish but it was the right one, weighing 4.34 pounds and giving him big fish and fourth place.

Wes Delay fished with me and we had high hopes. After an hour of casting topwater, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, worms and jigs to cover in the creek where I won the last Sportsman Club tournament we had missed two bites. They may have been bream.

We went out to a rocky point with a brush pile on it and I could see fish around the brush. Wes caught a keeper there but that was the only bite we got. That was very frustrating but it got even worse. At noon Wes had caught one throw back and that was the only bite either of us had in those three hours.

At noon in desperation I went to a creek where I fish a lot. I have spent enough time there to know where the little brush piles and rocks are located and which docks usually produce fish. In the next hour I caught six keepers and a throw backs on a jig head worm.

I used all my skill on my second and third fish. The first one hit under a dock where I have caught lot of fish. After we started moving down the bank to the next dock I cast my jig head worm ahead of the boat, put the rod under my arm, and got rid of some used coffee.

As the boat slowly drifted forward I realized my line was not getting slack like it should. About the time I got the rod back into my hands a bass took off and I landed it. Wes said he now saw the pattern to use!

As we moved up the bank I kept an eye on my depthfinder as I always do. We were in about ten feet of water a good cast off the bank. I saw something on my front sonar and as the back of the boat went over it I could tell on my downscan it was some brush with fish around it.

I told Wes we went over some fish and turned and cast to it. I felt my jig head hit the brush then a thump, and I landed a keeper. Throwing right back produced a throwback.

I caught my fourth keeper, one that some call a line burner since it just barely touched the 12 inch line, in some brush in front of dock then caught my fifth one under the next dock we fished. Fortunately I was able to cull the line burner when I caught one 12.1 inches long on a seawall.

We fished hard the rest of the day but neither of us caught even a throwback in the last two hours.

Time To Join A Bass Club

The tournament year ended in December for the three bass clubs in Griffin but our new year starts now. If you are interested in joining a club and fishing tournaments, this is the perfect time to join. And with three clubs you have a variety of choices.

In the Flint River Bass Club, for the first time ever, we had a tie for first place in the point standings for last year. Niles Murray and I tied with the same number of points for the year after 12 tournaments. Since that club awards points for the place you finish in a tournament as well as meeting attendance points, it is amazing we tied. And Niles did better in tournaments that I did but he missed several meetings I attended. If he had attended just one that he missed, he would have won for the year!

Chuck Croft placed third, Don Gober was fourth, John Smith was fifth and Travis Weatherly rounded out the top six for the year.

The Flint River club meets the first Tuesday each month and fishes the Sunday following the meeting, so our first meeting is this week and our first tournament is proposed for next Sunday at Jackson. We have two two-day tournaments during the year. Club dues are $20 per year but you must also pay BASS Federation Nation State and National dues of $40 and be a member of BASS. Tournament fees are $20 with additional optional $5 daily big fish, cumulative big fish and points pot.

In this club you can fish with anyone you want or fish alone. We also designate each one day club tournament as a youth tournament, so a club member can bring a youth 17 years old or younger. The youth fishes for prizes and there is no entry fee. You must be 16 to join the club so 16 and 17 year olds can pay the entry fee and fish in the club tournaments if they prefer.

Adult non-club members can also bring a youth to fish the youth tournament but the adult can not enter the club tournament.

We allow a club member to bring a guest to fish so if you just want to try it one time, let me know and I will find someone for you to fish with, probably me, in the tournament. And if you don’t have a boat don’t worry, many of us fish alone and you can start fishing with me or I will help find someone for you to fish with if you want to join.

The club tries to send a team to the BASS Federation Nation each year but struggles to get six members to go.

In the Potato Creek Bassmasters Raymond English placed first, I was second, Niles Murray was third Ryan Edge placed fourth, Lee Hancock came in fifth and Michael Cox was sixth in the point standings for the year.

The Potato Creek club meets the Monday after the first Tuesday and fishes a tournament the following Saturday. We have four two-day tournaments during the year. Dues are $50 but this club is not affiliated with either federation so there are no other dues. Tournament entry fees are $30 with additional optional $5 daily and $5 cumulative big fish pots. Guests and youth are not allowed in tournaments.

For last year in the Spalding County Sportsman Cub Sam Smith won for the year Raymond English was second, Niles Murray placed third, I came in fourth, Zane Fleck was fifth and sixth place was Russell Prevatt.

The Sportsman Club meets the third Tuesday of each month and fishes a tournament the following Sunday. We have two two-day tournaments during the year. Dues are $75 per year but that includes club, state and national FLW Federation dues and FLW membership fee for a year. Tournament entry fees are $25 with additional optional $5 daily and cumulative big fish pots.

This club also designates each one day tournament as a youth tournament so the same rules apply that apply for the Flint River club. In addition, if a 16 or 17-year-old wants to join the club and fish, the club will pay their dues for the year. They will have to pay their own entry fees in club tournaments.

This club sends a six-man team to the FLW Federation tournaments each year. We also allow guests and welcome new members with or without a boat. I fish most tournaments by myself so I would like to find someone to fish with me.

Don’t join a club expecting to win a lot of money. There are plenty of pot and trail tournaments you can enter to try to do that. Club fishing is more for the fun, camaraderie and bragging rights. We enjoy swapping fishing tales and some good-natured teasing while we eat at our meetings and at weigh-ins. And you can learn from what others say worked for them to catch fish.

I joined the Sportsman Club in 1974, the Flint River club in 1978 and the Potato Creek club last year and have not missed many tournaments in either club in all those years. I do enjoy the meetings and the tournaments and plan on fishing club tournaments as long as my health will allow.

If interesting in joining a club email me at and I will try to answer any questions you have. Again, we welcome boaters, non-boaters and if you and a friend want to join and fish together that is great, too.

Chesapeake Tournament Regulations

Chesapeake Tournament Regulations
from The Fishing Wire

Editor’s Note: Yesterday, we presented Maryland DNR’s take on reasons for new regulations on tournament bass fishing in the tidal Potomac River and Upper Chesapeake Bay. Today, we’ve got the other side of the coin from tournament angler, guide and outdoor writer Steve Chaconas:

In the first meeting of the MD DNR Black Bass Advisory Subcommittee in August, the BBAS was presented information and justification for 2 options for tournament restrictions on the Tidal Potomac and Upper Chesapeake Bay.

Without discussion or understanding of the waiver conditions or seeking collaborative data, as MD biologist Joe Love couldn’t predict the effect of these changes, the newly formed 13 member BBAS voted to restrict tournament angling by recommending a slot limit possession regulation from June 15 to March 1 affecting all anglers.

At a September meeting, waivers to the new slot limit (4 fish between 12-15 inches and ONLY one fish over 15 inches) were discussed. Beyond standard licensing, livewell inspections, and dead fish penalties, there are numerous fish handling requirements. No fish-piercing culling systems are allowed. Bass will be transported in bags filled with water no longer than two (2) minutes prior to, during, and after weigh-in without supplemental aeration and/or water exchange. Fish must then be placed in mobile holding tanks, not immediately released into the water. The total weight of bass confined shall not exceed one pound per gallon. Tanks shall be equipped with aeration, air injection, or oxygenation systems. Water shall be maintained at the river surface temperature or no more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit below the surface temperature. A release boat, tanks on a trailer or in the bed of a truck, a pre-release tank to hold bass or refresh bass before their release to the water or using bass boats live wells, will allow fish to recuperate before release. MD DNR will provide assistance in redistribution of bass at approved sites. For larger commercial, out of state organizations, compliance to achieve waivers is part of their existing tournament model. It is the smaller, local events that do not have the specialized equipment nor the manpower to carry out the extra weigh in steps.

At the heart of the issue is really whether any action is needed at all. August’s Bassmaster Elite Series tournament winner brought in an astounding 18 pounds a day with many 20+ pound bags weighed in. This year’s event had an average fish weight of 2.94 pounds compared to 2.29 pounds in 2007. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) biologist John Odenkirk maintains, that in a fishery with a high voluntary release rate (over 99%), and a low total annual mortality rate, restrictive regulations would only inconvenience anglers. “There is no evidence of excessive angling mortality. Recruitment is not density dependent on spawning stock but is linked to environmental variables. The regulation is a poor solution in search of a problem.”

Often cited as further evidence the Potomac’s demise was the absence for several years on the Bassmaster Top 100 fisheries list. However, this list is an informal survey of fisheries managers, outdoors writers and BASS Nation officials, not a scientific study.

Ten years of tournament data, reflecting results of 12 Potomac events a year, has been compiled from Virginia’s New Horizons Bass Club by Odenkirk for tabulation, who remarked this data is amazingly consistent and similar to electrofishing data showing an improvement this year and getting near average, while still not back to the prime years 2009-2012.

In November, MD DNR gave the BBAS a Potomac data preview. What had been three consecutive years below their Fisheries Management Plan line was now well above their threshold to take action, but not enough for MDDNR nor the BBAS to reconsider small tournament restrictions. The Department is taking the next step in making the slot limit a law, public scoping.

During the August meeting where the BBAS passed the tournament restrictions, the man who literally wrote the book on fish care, fisheries biologist Gene Gilliland was present. With over 30 years fisheries management experience, he recently became B.A.S.S. Conservation Director. Gilliland noted the 13-member BBAS composition where 6 are guides, giving the appearance tournament anglers are not fairly represented. “In my opinion, the process needs to slow down and take a step back…look harder at the makeup of the committee and look even harder at the data and recommendations being made. Ask the committee for solutions rather than offering a suite of options with little room for modification. Moving too fast and alienating a large portion of your constituency is never a good thing for an agency to do.”

In October, the MD Sport Fish Advisory Commission tabled the BBAS slot limit regulation recommendation. The DNR Director was concerned that an opposition letter sent to the SFAC Commissioners and the BBAS subcommittee would delay pubic scoping before heading to the MD General Assembly for the slot limit to become law. A special BBAS meeting in November began with a motion to investigate board members who presented slot limit opposition to the Sport Fish Advisory Commission. The motion was soundly defeated.

Given their opportunity for public comment, speakers voiced strong slot limit opposition. Capt. John Sisson, Potomac guide and tournament angler representing DC anglers, said this recommendation appears to be an attack on tournament anglers. VA Tournament director Lee Blount concurred, adding they do not have the budget to purchase or manpower to operate a professional style weigh in. He also made it clear their events already practice good fish care and have even restricted limits to 4 fish.

Resonating what others presented to the BBAS, the President of Maryland’s largest bass club, Fish On Bass Anglers, said confusing and prohibitive regulations have forced his club to opt out of Potomac fishing. Logan Summers says his 60 members are opposed to the BBAS slot recommendation, saying slot limit waivers can only be achieved by larger commercial tournament entities. He noted an unintended consequence of the restrictive slot limit, with major events being scheduled outside the slot limit calendar, staged during the spawn. Anglers left with the belief that the BBAS has an anti-tournament sentiment.

Worse yet is the impact on local charity tournaments. The Reel American Heroes Foundation (RAHF) has afforded military members a day on the water and supplies for our overseas troops. With uncertainly of whether they would qualify for a waiver, RAHF is pursuing alternative fisheries, at the risk of losing anglers and sponsors. Another charity mainstay unable to qualify for a waiver is the St. Jude Children’s Hospital tournament, raising over $250,000 in 21 years. Anglers surveyed revealed 70% would not fish a slot limit event.

MD DNR has not supplied any impact studies of the recommended slot limit other than pointing to new Florida fishing restrictions. There are enormous differences. FL permits possession of 5 fish with only one over 16. Their stated rationale was to protect Florida’s lunker population and to encourage the harvesting of smaller fish, allowing any size below 16 inches and consolidating numerous fishing regulations across the state for easier compliance and enforcement. Interestingly, waivers for tournaments do NOT require weigh in tubs, recovery tubs or fish relocation to release sites. In other words, there are no comparisons.

Maryland needs to find another way to guide anglers to better fish care.
Bottom line, without MD reaching out to VA and DC Departments and considering the impact on small local angling clubs, it will take a united opposition to keep up the pressure on the MD DNR and up the chain.
Fish care should not be regulated, in this case, but rather educated.

Capt. Steve Chaconas has covered pro bass fishing for more than 20 years. He’s a guide on the Potomac River and a contributing writer for BoatU.S. (

Mid November Lake Allatoona Club Tournament

Last Saturday six members of the Potato Creek Bassmasters took the hazardous journey with our boats through downtown Atlanta to fish Lake Allatoona for our November tournament. We landed 23 keeper spotted bass weighing about 35 pounds. There were three five-fish limits and no zeros.

I managed to catch five weighing 10.08 pounds for first, Raymond English was second with five at 7.08 pounds, Mike Cox came in third with five weighing 5.41 pounds and Donnie Willis had fourth with two at 5.26 and big fish with a 2.76 pounder.

As we got ready to blast off someone asked if it was a 12 inch limit on Allatoona, and I said yes, and a 13 inch fish is a trophy. Allatoona is known for its small spotted bass but very few bigger fish. It is the only lake in Georgia that consistently does not produce a five pound fish each year in club tournaments.

I was pleasantly surprised when I stopped on a shallow point and landed a two pounder on a spinnerbait on my fourth cast. I did not expect to catch one that big all day, but a few minutes later, as the sky got a little lighter, I landed another two pounder on topwater. I was thrilled starting that way.

Two hours later I had missed three bites on topwater but had not landed another fish. Then, in a small pocket I had gone into trying to get out of the wind, I landed a 12 inch fish on a jig head worm. It was the size I expected to catch.

After that I started fishing pockets like that and landed another two pounder on a jig and pig. It was noon now and I moved out to a rocky point and landed another keeper, this one about 13 inches long, on a jig head worm. That filled my limit so I went back to the jig and pig hoping to catch a bigger fish.

At about 1:00 I landed my biggest fish, a 2.66 pounder, on the jig from a rocky point. Since I was in my new boat I headed back closer to the landing, knowing I had a good catch for Allatoona, and worrying something might go wrong. I wanted to be on time for weigh-in!

Another local club weighed in the same time we did and it took 10 pounds to win that club, too. One of their fishermen had a largemouth, the only one weighed in by either club. There was also an ABA tournament the same day and it took just over 10 pounds to win it and only eight to get a check.

Allatoona is hard to get to due to the traffic in Atlanta, especially pulling a boat, but you can catch a lot of keeper spots there.

I was also thrilled to win my first tournament out of my new boat. Twelve years ago I won my first tournament out of that boat when it was new, too. Now, if I can just keep fishing out of this one for 12 years I will be very happy!

Two Club Tournament At Jackson Lake

At Jackson Lake last Sunday 12 members of the Flint River Bass Club and the Spalding County Sportsman Club fished our end of the year joint tournament. In eight hours we landed 42 bass weighing about 61 pounds. There were six five-fish limits and two fishermen didn’t have any fish. Ten of the keepers were largemouth.

Niles Murray blew us all away with five weighing 12.30 pounds and big fish with a 3.57 pounder. Raymond English had five at 9.15 for second, third was Randall Sharpton with five weighing 6.63 pounds and George Roberts was fourth with five at 6.46.

Niles said he caught his fish on a spinnerbait. Raymond said most of his hit a crankbait. I tried both but caught only three keepers. That was very disappointing on a rainy day, but at least it was very cold, too.

Slot Limit Restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay

Will Slot Limit Restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay Bass change tournaments?
from The Fishing Wire

Maryland DNR’s Response to Comments Submitted Specific to Possession Slot Limit Restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay for Black Bass Tournaments in 2016
Editor’s Note: Tournament anglers in Maryland and Virginia are concerned with new slot limits put in place by Maryland DNR recently that they say will make it impossible to hold tournaments under existing rules in the popular estuarine waters of the Potomac River and upper Chesapeake Bay. Here’s a look at Maryland’s position on the issue:

The Department has taken numerous recent actions to improve black bass fisheries in Potomac River by addressing pollution, instituting stocking, enhancing habitat, and providing handling tips to all anglers who target black bass in Maryland. In addition to these actions, the Department has also implemented a new condition on tournament permits in order to help reduce fishing mortality and reduce stockpiling of large fish. This is the first river wide action to affect possession of tidewater black bass in 25 years. In today’s fishery, possession is largely associated with black bass tournaments and while their anglers are conservation stewards, any change in possession limit will affect primarily them. This action related to possession was taken as an emergency measure to address population problems that have been evidenced by both agency surveys and angler reports. It is the Department’s responsibility to act and, using every tool possible, respond to the population issue.

The Department sent a memo that outlines new possession restriction for tournaments. For tournaments held from June 16 to October 31 at Maryland weigh-in locations on Potomac River or Upper Chesapeake Bay (Susquehanna, Northeast, Elk, Susquehanna flats), participating anglers are limited to a 12 inch minimum size and a possession limit of 5 bass (largemouth and smallmouth combined), only one of which may be 15 inches or greater (per angler, per day). Therefore, an angler can weigh-in 5 fish over 12″ to UNDER 15″ and only 1 of those may be 15″ AND BIGGER (from tip of snout to tip of tail).

The Department received many comments since sending out the memo with justification regarding this possession change. The Department appreciates the input and has made modifications to the original possession restriction. Tournament directors will now be provided two options or choices when applying for a permit for tournaments held in Maryland on Potomac River or Upper Chesapeake Bay from June 16 through October 31. Both options are designed to reduce fishing mortality and reduce stockpiling of large fish. Option 1 requires the tournament director/participants to adhere to the slot limit permit condition. Option 2 requires directors to adhere to special conditions that minimize fish stress, thereby reducing fishing mortality. These special conditions have been modeled after those used in Florida bass fisheries. Option 2 allows directors/participants to adhere to statewide regulations during this time period (minimum 12″ size, 5 fish creel).

The following is a summary of the major comments/input we have received, including a response from the Department

1. Some clubs stated they will honor the new rule, several find it biologically meaningful and similar to existing strategies in Florida, Minnesota, and Texas. Some tournament directors that already have tournament permits issued for tournaments between June 16 through October 31 agreed to implement the new permit condition restriction voluntarily.

2. Maryland’s businesses will be adversely impacted when large tournaments (FLW, BASS, etc.) pull out of Maryland and smaller tournaments depend on anglers who *want* to catch big bass. A restriction of one large fish greater than 15″ does not preclude tournament activity in Maryland waters. Tournaments are held in water of other states with a minimum and maximum size for possession (e.g. Fayette County Lake TX; statewide FL; several lakes, MN; Lake Casitas, CA). Other types of tournaments (Fishing League Worldwide, iAngler tournaments) are also possible and nationally popular. The FLW and BASS are scheduled to be held in Maryland in 2016.

3. The restriction will harm tourism and tournament businesses. The Department is concerned that there is already declining tournament activity in the Potomac River in response to the declining bass population (see Figures 1 and 2). In addition, reported catch in 2015 averaged among tournaments declined from 3 bass/angler to 2 bass/angler, impacting the angling experience. The bass population decline may have already had a negative impact on tourism and tournament businesses. The current Departmental actions were taken to help speed the recovery of this fishery to lessen a long-term negative impact on tourism and tournament businesses.

4. On the Potomac River, tournaments will move to Virginia, which will hurt the population of bass in Maryland and possibly cause greater death of fish released at the major weigh-in location in Virginia. Maryland has made significant investments into Smallwood State Park to make it a desirable location to conduct bass tournaments. The Department hopes that these improvements will continue to be utilized. In the future a river-wide regulation may be one way to address this concern; it would affect anglers from Virginia fishing in Maryland. But the time constraints of a regulation did not make that possible for this year. The Department will work with our partners in Virginia to discuss tournament concerns. However, the population cannot wait for consensus among the jurisdictions. If needed, Maryland will lead the conservation efforts for this important resource.

This past February, biologists from Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. presented evidence of declining bass populations, though there was not consensus on the explanation for the decline. The Department is leading conservation efforts along with its stakeholders (tournament directors, guides, anglers) to take actions against pollution, stock fish, enhance habitat, control invasive species, monitor disease in bass, and speed recovery of the fishery. The Department’s current options for tournament directors, which were created based on considerable stakeholder feedback, should encourage tournament anglers to remain in Maryland and work with the Department in continuing their conservation efforts to speed recovery of the fishery.

5. Why are you picking on tournaments and not applying rule changes to the entire fishery? Immediate Departmental action was necessary given the current status of the fishery. Implementing changes for the overall fishery will require regulation and would not be in place in 2016. However, various options will be considered for 2017 which could affect all users groups and the entire fishery.

The current action, which was one of many considered, affected possession. Possession is largely associated with many styles of tournament fishing. Most recreational anglers catch and immediately release bass that are captured. Some tournaments in Maryland have catch and immediate release formats (e.g., paper fish tournament rules), which does not cause the additional handling stress that can be associated with possession or lead to stockpiling. Most tournaments catch the bass, temporarily hold them in live wells or tanks, take them to weigh-in and then release the fish. Studies conducted by the Department indicate that total bass mortality following tournaments conducted in late June or July can range between 19% – 25% of total catch. Other studies indicate that post-release mortality during summer may reach 34% of total catch. Heavy bass tend to die more than smaller bass during tournaments. An analysis of length data for dead fish collected during Potomac River tournaments during the 12-inch season indicated that 70% of the fish were 15-inches or larger. This fact was the scientific justification for the implementation of the permit condition (12″ minimum, 5 fish creel, only one fish 15″ or bigger).

This new possession restriction was designed to bring fewer big fish to weigh-in and to reduce overall fishing mortality in a fishery where Largemouth Bass Virus and pollution additionally stress health of fish. The Department has long recognized that many tournament organizations implement a host of best practices that maximize fish care, thereby reducing fishing mortality. Recognition of this fact has led to the modification of the Department’s original decision. Tournament organizations that implement a variety of best practices that were obtained from Florida’s bass fisheries management style, can fish under Maryland’s existing statewide regulations. Fisheries staff will be attending these tournaments to ensure fish care and compliance with best practices.

6. There will be a shift in fishing pressure to spring. The Department will be able to monitor if there is a shift in tournament activity to the spring through our tournament permitting process. We will also be evaluating whether tournament fishing pressure is redirected to systems other than the Potomac River and Upper Chesapeake Bay. In the coming months, the Department will evaluate management actions, with public scoping that could be implemented in 2017 to improve the fishery. This may apply to the spring season and to all bass anglers.

7. What is the justification for this restriction applied to the Upper Chesapeake Bay (Upper Bay) fishery? The trend in the Upper Chesapeake Bay fishery is also a cause for concern (see Figure 3). Recent catch has been 2 years below the Management Plan Reference Line, possibly because of poorer than usual reproduction in 2012 and 2013. Figures 1 and 2 indicate increasing tournament pressure in the Upper Bay, which may partially be a result of tournaments shifting pressure from Potomac River to the Upper Bay. The Department is concerned that more tournaments could move to the Upper Bay if restrictions are not consistent in the Upper Bay and Potomac River. In addition, there is a higher prevalence of Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) in the Upper Bay as compared to the Potomac River. The LMBV-infected fish held under stressful conditions, such as live-wells during the summer, have a higher level of post release mortality. Considering the declining trend in the Upper Bay, proactive approaches to protection are needed.

8. This restriction is only on tournaments, so recreational anglers can catch and kill up to 5 big fish. Based on creel surveys, approximately 1% -5% of anglers catch and keep bass for personal use. Therefore, the harvest of largemouth bass is extremely low. However, regulations may be enacted in 2017 that would affect all user groups.

9. This stipulation will cause greater culling and handling of large fish. Culling occurs during tournament events. Participants work to maximize weight within the possession limits that exist. While we understand that tournament anglers will cull big fish, the big fish that are culled are going back in the river and not in the live well.

10. Why weren’t we given the opportunity for public comment on this rule? The Department requested recommendations from the Black Bass Roundtable in February; however there was not consensus on what actions regarding possession restrictions should move forward. The Department committed to taking additional management action in 2016 and considered several other potential actions. Fisheries staff met in late February to consider a suite of management actions and scientific data to address the decline in the fishery. The options considered included: significant reductions in creel limits, increasing minimum size limits, no permits issued in July and August due to thermal concerns, a closed spring season, and/or catch and immediate release spring season.

The Department decided to take an action that restricted possession and was biologically meaningful. In order to take an action in 2016, it was necessary to add a permit stipulation/condition. The Department is authorized to add such stipulations, but does not take that authority liberally. Since the implementation of the permitting system in 2012, this is the first time that a stipulation was added to permits to restrict possession.

The option for a slot limit does not affect tournament opportunities like the other actions considered by the Department. It limits movement of big fish to release sites, reduces physiological stress on big fish in live wells, and is scientifically defensible as a measure to speed recovery of a stressed population. Of the options considered it was seen as the least problematic for tournaments. Tournament regulations require the Department to respond to an application within 15-30 days. Therefore, the Department had a very short timeframe to make a decision and implement it in the tournament permits. In hindsight, the Department should have notified constituents regarding all actions being considered immediately to allow for feedback. The window for feedback would have been very short, but meaningful. The Department will be increasing the frequency of bass stakeholder group meetings within a year and all stakeholders are encouraged to participate. An improved stakeholder process would help address this issue in the future.

11. This stipulation makes it more difficult to win a tournament based on skill rather than luck. Competition standards in the tournament are the same among anglers, and anglers can compete in a big fish competition. Alternatively, directors could exclude any big fish in the competition and facilitate a tighter competition among bag weights. Having fewer big fish in a bag may tighten the margin between bag weights and tournament directors are certainly allowed to exclude big fish from bag weights if they believe it will influence the competition too much.

In some cases, anglers may consider it luck that a big fish is caught, which could win the tournament. Others may consider it skill. Currently, anglers may also consider it either luck or skill when one or more big fish are caught to win a tournament. Winning lunker competitions or big bag could depend on both luck and skill, but enjoyment depends on the strength of the fishery. The restriction is meant to help strengthen the fishery. Concerns expressed by this comment could be eliminated if a tournament directors choose Option 2 when obtaining a permit and commit to implementing a suite of standardized best practices that maximize fish care.

Late November Lake Lanier Tournament

Last Sunday 11 members of the Spalding County Sportsman Club fished our November tournament at Lake Lanier. Although the lake was nine feet low, we managed to land 33 bass weighing about 67 pounds. There were only two largemouth weighed in, all the rest were spots. Three fishermen had limits and two did not catch a 14-inch keeper.

Sam Smith won it all with five weighing 12.90 pounds and had a 3.82 pound spot for big fish. George Roberts had a limit weighing 9.37 pounds for second, my four keepers weighing 9.04 pounds was third and Niles Murray came in fourth with five at 8.52 pounds.

I had high hopes the spots would be feeding on wind blown points, and we had lots of wind. The first place I stopped I got a three pound spot on a spinnerbait on a rocky point in the wind, the pattern I thought would be good. Two hours of throwing spinnerbaits later I had not gotten another bite!

In desperation, I went to a clay point with a road bed on it and cast a crankbait across it and caught a spot weighing almost two pounds. There is some brush on the roadbed out on the point and I moved to it and caught a bare keeper on a drop shot worm. Then I got a 13-inch non-keeper on a jig head worm there. Although I fished I hard I did not get another bite.

With only an hour left to fish I went to a point near the weigh-in where there is some deep brush. After about 15 minutes of dragging a jig and pig through the brush I felt a tap and set the hook on another three-pound spot. That was it for the day, five bites and four keepers on four different bait.

After the weigh-in Sam said he caught ten keepers on a spinnerbait, culling down to five for the win. He said it was a special spinnerbait. I guess I did not have the special one!

The size of the spots at Lanier is amazing. We had many three pounders weighed in. I had one weighing a little over three pounds and another one almost exactly the same size. They pull hard and are fun to catch. I would fish Lanier a lot more if there was a way to get to it without fighting all the interstate traffic coming home.