Recent studies conducted by the Ohio Division of Wildlife reveal that stream smallmouth bass require 5 years to reach 12 inches in length. A 15-inch specimen is seven years of age, and a real trophy fish could be a teenager! This growth rate is much slower than many folks realize and emphasizes the importance of protecting smallmouth bass habitat. And because these fish are far too valuable to be caught just once, we urge you to practice catch-and-release so that we all may continue to enjoy these spirited fish. Use the following guidelines to assure successful catch and release.
USE ARTIFICIAL LURES AND SET THE HOOK QUICKLY. Why? Smallmouth bass do not take artificial lures as deeply as live bait making a successful release more likely. Also, use single hooks or barbless hooks – they are easier to remove. If live bait is used, do not wait to set the hook if possible after a bite is detected. Smallmouth bass strike quickly and so should you – set the hook immediately to prevent the fish from being throat-hooked.
PLAY FISH AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. This is not always easy to do with a smallmouth bass! However, avoid lengthy battles that weaken fish unnecessarily and extend the time needed for recuperation.
LEAVE THE FISH IN THE WATER. Use your free hand, a pair of pliers, or forceps to quickly remove the hook while the fish is still in the water. If you do lift the fish out of the water, then wet your hands first and gently grip the lower lip with your thumb, or cradle the fish in the palm of your hand while removing the hook. Anyone who has battled a buckeye bronzeback will attest to its fighting ability.
CUT THE LINE IF A BASS IS DEEPLY HOOKED. A bass’ stomach acids will slowly corrode standard hooks and give the fish a much better chance of surviving than if the hook is pulled from its throat.
RELEASE THE FISH IMMEDIATELY. It’s fun to admire your catch and snap a quick photograph, but do not delay its return to the water.
- IN STREAMS, release fish into calm water. A tired fish can be injured if released into fast, rocky rapids.
- DON’T place fish on a stringer that you plan to release later.
- DON’T THROW a bass back into the water. Instead, gently release the fish from your grasp while holding it under the surface. The fish will quickly swim away when it is ready.
PAY ATTENTION TO OHIO‘S SPECIAL REGULATION AREAS. In designated sections of the following streams, all smallmouth bass under 15 inches in length must be released: Big Darby Creek, Sandusky River, Little Beaver Creek, Hocking River, and the Stillwater River. Consult the official Ohio fishing regulations for more information (or visit the Ohio Division of Wildlife website at -www.dnr.state.oh.us/odnr/wildlife/wildlife.html.
WHY HAVE SPECIAL FISHING REGULATIONS FOR STREAM SMALLMOUTH BASS?
Ohio‘s experimental fishing regulations for stream smallmouth bass (1-fish daily bag limit, 15″ minimum length) are designed to protect fish in the twelve-to-fifteen inch size range. Fish of this size are prolific spawners and effective nest protectors, and are very important in maintaining a healthy balance in bass populations.
What many anglers don’t realize is that stream smallmouth bass face long odds in reaching large sizes due in part to how slow they grow. For example, a fifteen-inch bass in an Ohiostream is about seven years old, but in comparison its Lake Erie cousin is just four years old. By protecting smallmouth bass up to fifteen inches in length, these stream fishing regulations ensure that more fish of this size remain in our streams and that fishing for them improves.
Over the next several years The Ohio Division of Wildlife will monitor the effectiveness of these fishing regulations through electro-shocking, scale sampling, and angler creel surveys. This information will play an important role in the future management of Ohio‘s valuable stream smallmouth fisheries.