Bass Myth Exploded

Despite the widely held notion that catching aggressive bass off nests during spawning season can deplete largemouth populations, a new University of Florida study published in a national fisheries journal this week indicates otherwise.

Largemouth bass are easily the most popular gamefish among American anglers. When the fish spawn in early spring, male bass make nests in calm, shallow water, court females, and then protect the eggs and hatchlings for several weeks.

Males guarding nests are notoriously aggressive, striking just about anything that moves. The fish are easy to catch, and as a result, it is commonly believed that intense spawning-season fishing can harm bass populations. As a result, some fisheries managers believe restrictions should be placed on fishing during the bass spawn.

But neither elevated concern nor fishing restrictions are necessary, say the results of a new scientific study.

"We found that in most cases, spawning area closures won't improve bass populations," said study co-author Mike Allen, a fisheries professor with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "If you lose some nests, the ones that are left have higher survival rates."

Allen and biological scientist Daniel Gwinn gathered data on anglers catching bass during spawning seasons in three states. The researchers plugged the data into mathematical models representing several types of restricted and unrestricted fishing. The results showed that prohibiting bass fishing during spawning season would only boost populations in waters where very high percentages of spawning bass are caught.

"Those conditions are pretty rare," Allen said.

The researcher also conceded that the practice of catch and release fishing may go a long way toward reducing any negative impact of fishing off bass nests during the spawn. In 2008, Allen and colleagues published a study showing that the percentage of largemouth bass caught and kept by anglers was half what it was in the 1980s.

The study's findings were published in the current issue of the journal Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.