Barbs and Backlashes

Catch and release makes a difference by whitetips
September 8, 2010, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Fishing | Tags: ,

I followed a discussion on the Nebraska Fish & Game Association Fishing Forum that posed some interesting questions, .  A couple of those questions sent me searching into some of our data and I would like to share that with you.

First of all, let me post a disclaimer.  I know it is not fair that I have access to our Master Angler data and I cannot share that database with other anglers.  We have recently re-done our entire web page and at some time we would like to have our Master Angler database available to the public.  We are not there yet, so for now you are going to have to put up with what I can share with you.  Sorry, but please be patient.

Let me take you back in time.  Our angler recognition program or Master Angler program has always been extremely popular.  In fact Nebraska’s Master Angler program is one of the largest angler recognition programs in the country.  Years ago Nebraska anglers had to take their trophy catches to scales to have them certified for master angler awards.  If you wanted a Master Angler certificate, you kept the fish.  Angler attitudes have changed over the years and that was reflected in our Master Angler program in 1986 when in addition to the qualifying minimum weights, minimum lengths were established that could be used to qualify largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, muskie, pike, trout and walleye for master angler awards.  Anglers could then measure those 9 species of fish, release those fish and still qualify for a master angler award.

Largemouth bass have always been one of the most popular fish in Nebraska’s Master Angler Program.  Many years more largemouth bass are entered for master angler awards than any other fish (largemouths have to weigh a minimum of 5 pounds if kept to qualify for the award; measure 20 inches long to qualify if immediately released).    The percentage of master angler largemouth bass that have been released has steadily increased over the years.

From 1986-1991 less than 10% of the master angler largemouth bass were caught and released.  That changed dramatically in 1992 when the release percentage jumped to 45% and it has increased ever since.  Why the big jump in 1992?  I can tell you–among others there was a young fisheries biologist championing catch & release of big fish who campaigned for the minimum lengths and ability to catch-and-release master angler fish of all species.  That became reality in 1992 and an incentive was added to encourage the release of master angler fish–a catch and release pin was given in addition to the master angler certificate if the fish were released.  In recent years the percentage of master angler largemouth bass that have been caught and released has been consistently over 80%; in 2009 88% of the master angler largemouths were released.

You can see in the graph that as more master angler largemouth bass were released the total number of master angler largemouth bass increased until 1997.  From 1997-2000 there were around 760 master angler largemouths caught every year.  But, you also can see the number of master angler largemouth bass took a dip after that.  I cannot tell you the exact reason for the decline in the number of master angler largemouth bass in 2001-2008; there could be several reasons and I doubt that anyone can prove exactly what caused the decline.  I do know those were years of an extended period of drought in Nebraska and I suspect that might have had something to do with the decline.  There were enough master angler largemouths caught in 2009 to reverse the decline and water levels have been much better throughout the state in the past couple of years.  We will see if the numbers of big largemouth bass caught from Nebraska waters increase in the next few years.

One question that was posed about this was how much impact fishing effort has on the numbers of master angler largemouth bass that are caught?  That is hard to quantify because we do not have a statewide angler or creel survey that estimates the total angling effort.  However, the sales of fishing permits could be used as an index of fishing effort.

Resident fishing permit sales also dropped during the 2000-2005 period, so less angling pressure could also have been a reason there were less big bass caught at that time.  I suspect the drought years also had an impact on permit sales.

Let me share one other tidbit with you.  Care to guess which body of water had the most master angler fish in 2009?

I dare you, write your answer down before you look at the next few lines, because I will bet you guess wrong.

What is your guess?

Red Willow?  McConaughy?  Merritt?

Nope, none of those.

In 2009 there were more master angler fish caught from Branched Oak Reservoir than any other body of water in the state.  That’s right, I said Branched Oak.  There were 155 master angler fish caught from Branched Oak in 2009, 137 from Merritt and 108 from Red Willow.  All of the master angler fish caught from Branched Oak, except for 9 fish, were flathead catfish and wipers–fish that must be released.  Branched Oak is the largest reservoir in southeast Nebraska and has no lack of use; it gets fished just as hard as every other body of water in the eastern part of the state.  It does not take a lot of imagination to realize that one huge reason for all the master angler fish in Branched Oak is catch and release; those fish would not be there if they were harvested.

I would make the same argument for Red Willow.  Red Willow is one of the best waters in the state for master angler fish, year after year.  There are no mandatory catch and release regulations in effect at Red Willow, but I know that the majority of those big fish are voluntarily released (if you want evidence of that, just check out Steve Lytle’s website, .

It took me some time, but digging through data to answer some questions I had heard provided some interesting results; some results I wanted to share.  What is my point in all of this?  Well, nothing new, just another one of my “sermons” about the benefits of catch & release, especially the release of big fish!

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

will you notify us via barbs & backlashes when the master angler list is available on the website?

Comment by jim maxon

You can count on it, Jim.

Daryl B.

Comment by whitetips

Are you sure you like fishing? Every time you post a picture of you holding up a nice fish you always have a grimace on your face. Dude what’s up with that?

Comment by Jeff

On some of those pictures I am fishing alone and have to use the timer on my camera for the pictures. By the time I push the button, make sure I am in the right position, and hold the fish up, I forget to smile.

Daryl B.

Comment by whitetips

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: