Lakecaster Online

TPWD Field Notes
By Todd Driscoll

History of Largemouth Bass Management in Texas(Part-1)
By Todd Driscoll/District Fisheries Biologist
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

As part of a series of meetings held across the state, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) Inland Fisheries Director Phil Durocher presented a summary of largemouth bass management programs in Texas to an interested crowd of anglers in Lufkin. A brief history was given, indicating how bass management methods and philosophies have changed over the years. Current bass management techniques were discussed and future management plans and ideas were explained. This article discusses the history of bass management in Texas and is the first of two summarizing information Mr. Durocher presented at this meeting.

Anglers often wonder why we need restrictive bass regulations. The bottom line is that angler demand has exceeded bass supply. Obviously, the number of reservoirs that can be built is limited. From 1950 - 1970, the total acreage of water in Texas tripled due to the creation of new reservoirs.

Most anglers are aware of how good fishing can be on new reservoirs. Unfortunately, reservoir construction has rapidly declined. As these limited number of reservoirs age and fishing pressure increases, TPWD recognizes how important intensive management programs are to the future of quality fishing.

Although the roots of bass fishing can be traced to many years earlier, advances of boat and angling equipment during the 1940' s and 50' s helped to increase the popularity of the largemouth bass. The first bass boat and the first soft plastic bait were developed and the first organized bass tournament took place during these two decades. During the 1960's bass fishing continued to grow and the supply of bass generally exceeded the demand from anglers. Most reservoirs had liberal bag limits and very few anglers released the fish they caught. At this time, fisheries biologists thought that on large reservoirs fish numbers could not be significantly reduced by angler harvest and existing regulations reflected this belief.

Prior to 1975, largemouth bass in Texas were regulated with a 7-inch minimum length limit and a daily bag of 15 fish. During the 1970' s bass fishing continued to expand. Biologists recognized that angler demand was beginning to exceed the supply of bass. Statewide regulations were changed in 1975 to a 10-inch minimum/10 fish bag limit. Just three years later it was determined that in certain lakes, this regulation was not restrictive enough to sustain quality fishing. In 1978, Lake Nacogdoches was opened to the public. Under the statewide 10-inch minimum/10 fish bag, approximately 50 pounds of bass per acre were harvested during the first year. It was closed and reopened in 1979 under an experimental 16-inch minimum length limit and required several years to recover. Using what they had learned at Lake Nacogdoches, TPWD opened Lake Fayette County in 1979 under a 16-inch minimum length limit. Although 17 tons of bass were harvested during the first year, it was determined that quality fishing could be maintained through restrictive regulations.

As fishing effort towards largemouth bass continued to increase during the 1980' s, TPWD established a statewide 14-inch minimum/5 fish bag limit. This change was one of the most important in the agency' s history, as it not only improved bass populations, but also highlighted the recreational value of bass by downplaying harvest. During this time catch and release increased in popularity and greatly contributed to the quality of bass fishing. As the popularity of bass fishing continued into the 1990' s, catch and release played an even more important role in sustaining and enhancing bass fisheries. In addition, the agency began to fine-tune regulations at specific lakes (e.g., slot limits and catch and release regulations). It was also recognized just how important good fishing can be to local economies. For example, a 1995 study conducted at Lake Fork indicated that the total annual economic value of the fishery was approximately $38 million.

As we look into the future, catch and release and refinement of existing management practices are going to play vital roles in maintaining and enhancing our bass populations. In the next issue, current management techniques and future bass management activities will be discussed. If you have questions concerning the fisheries of our area lakes, stop by the Inland Fisheries office at the Jasper State Fish Hatchery or contact us by phone (409-384-9572) or email (todd3d@jas.net). Good luck and good fishing!

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