By Howard Meyerson
Michigan’s popular Master Angler program recognized a whopping 1,189 anglers including four new state records in 2012, but changes were needed, according to state officials, to bring the program in line with its intended purpose.
New rules went into effect in January. They include changing certain minimum entry lengths or weights, requiring color photographs to help with fish identification, requiring the photo to show the background where the fish was caught, and lowering the number of required witnesses from two to one, among other things.
“One reason we started looking at it was we were getting so many entries for certain species,” said Lynne Thoma, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources staffer who manages the Master Angler program. “It is supposed to be an award for particularly big fish, but it was becoming run-of-the-mill (to get one) for rock bass and fresh-water drum.”
Anglers received Master Angler awards for 119 freshwater drum in 2012 according to state records. They also took home awards for 113 rock bass and 108 bluegills. But only nine brook trout made the cut and five rainbow trout.
“I know from our weir program that steelhead are very popular, but the number of entries we got were not reflective of that popularity…17 pound steehead are becoming increasingly rare.”
—Tom Goniea, MDNR Fisheries Biologist
Tom Goniea, the DNR biologist who helped revise the rules said notable changes have occurred since the rules were last reviewed. The average size and abundance of freshwater drum increased while decreasing for rainbow trout and other species. Those changes are often the result of changes in food availability. There are fewer alewives to feed steelhead and an abundance of round gobies to feed drum, smallmouth bass and other species.The result has been a flood of drum entries and a diminishing list of steelhead entries.
“Steelhead are very popular, but the number of entries we got were not reflective of that popularity,” Goniea said. “I know from our weir program that 17-pound steelhead were becoming increasingly rare. The minimum size for a steelhead entry has been 17 pounds.”
Anglers can submit their catches to the Master Angler Catch & Keep category or Catch & Release category. Minimum entry weights are required for Catch and Keep while minimum lengths are required for Catch and Release. The latter has been renamed “Catch and Immediate Release” because Thoma and others have become aware that fish often were not released in time to save them.
“Immediate release is so important,” Thoma said. “We have had so many entries come in with photos of people holding fish in their driveway or in their kitchen where it clearly wasn’t catch and release.”
Bowfishing and Spearing entries will now only be accepted in the Catch & Keep category. Goniea said the rule changes will better reflect what Michigan fishing is about. The rules were tweaked to reduce the number of entries for some species while boosting others.
Steelhead, he said, is a good example. The minimum length was reduced from 34-inches to 32-inches and the minimum weight was lowered from 17 pounds to 14 pounds with the hope that anglers will submit more entries.
Smallmouth bass, however, or freshwater drum (sheepshead) , are on the opposite end of the spectrum. The entry requirements were raised for both so only the largest would be recognized. The minimum length for freshwater drum was raised from 21-inches to 25 inches and the minimum weight for smallmouth bass was increased from 5 pounds to 5 pounds 4 ounces.
“It had been a couple of decades since we looked at all this so we looked at the number of entries for each species and what the state is known for as well as what people spend time fishing for,” Goniea said. “It made sense to raise the minimums for species like bluegill the most popular fish that people target where more large fish are taken.”
Other Master Angler program changes include the following:
- Rock Bass: Minimum length raised from 11-inches to 11.5 inches;
- Bullhead: Black, brown and yellow bullheads will be entered in one Bullhead category, but state records will be maintained for each.
- Channel Catfish: Minimum length raised from 27 to 29 inches;
- Crappie: Black and white crappie will entered in one crappie category, but state records will be maintained for each.
- Muskellunge: Great Lakes and Northern muskies will be entered in one Muskellunge category, but state records will be maintained for each;
- Atlantic Salmon: Minimum length lowered from 33 inches to 32-inches;
- Chinook Salmon: Minimum length lowered from 41 inches to 39 inches;
- Coho Salmon: Minimum length lowered from 32-inches to 31 inches;
- Brook Trout: Minimum length lowered from 17 inches to 15 inches;
- Brown Trout: Minimum length lowered from 33-inches to 32 inches.
Copyright © 2013 Howard Meyerson