Statement issued Monday:
COLUMBIA CITY – The Indiana DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife may seek changes in largemouth bass fishing regulations at two Noble County lakes in hopes of culling high numbers of the popular sportfish to increase their growth and size.
Based on sampling conducted last year, DFW biologists say Big and Crane lakes contain three times the normal number of bass found in northern Indiana natural lakes. As a result, bass grow slowly and few bass large enough to be taken home by anglers are present.
Currently all angler-caught bass less than 14 inches long must be released. The DFW imposed the 14-inch minimum size limit at nearly all natural lakes in 1998 to increase bass numbers. The limit has apparently been overly protective at some lakes.
“We’ve seen huge increases in bass numbers at Big and Crane lakes as a result of the size limit,” said Jed Pearson, the DFW biologist who keeps tabs on bass populations throughout the region. “Coupled with angler promotion of catch-and-release fishing, some lakes now have more bass than they can support.”
Biologists captured 303 adult bass per hour of sampling at Big Lake and 294 per hour at Crane Lake. The average catch rate at most natural lakes is 96 per hour. Only 2 percent of the bass captured at Big and 5 percent of the bass captured at Crane were of legal size.
According to Pearson, changes in bass fishing regulations may be worth considering at Big and Crane lakes to encourage anglers to catch and keep small bass. The theory is that once many of the small bass are removed, those that remain should then grow larger. Once balance in the bass populations is restored, the 14-inch limit could then be re-instated.
Any changes in bass fishing rules must first be approved by the Natural Resources Commission. That involves an extensive process to assure any change will achieve the desired results and to include public hearing, so no changes are likely to be made this year.
“Before we take a proposal to the Commission we need to iron out the details of what may be needed,” said Pearson. “We also want to make sure the public is willing to accept the change and conservation officers will be able to enforce it.”
The DFW is considering three options. All three rely on what Pearson called a “reverse slot limit.”
“Instead of a 14-inch minimum size limit, anglers may be allowed to keep only 10- to 14-inch bass,” Pearson said. “We could also relax the daily catch limit of five for bass that size. Or we could allow some combination of 10- to 14-inch bass and bass over 14 inches.”
If a change is eventually made, the DFW plans to promote it widely to encourage anglers to fish the two lakes and take home bass. A change could be linked to fishing derbies and other events designed to encourage fishing, especially among youngsters.
“All of this is in the talking phase right now,” Pearson said. “If and when a change is made, we will also want to closely monitor the results.”