By Howard Meyerson
Michigan bass anglers could soon be enjoying more time on the water. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is floating a proposed rule change to allow catch-and-immediate-release (CIR) bass fishing all-year, statewide – except on specific waters that are closed.
The proposed expansion of the CIR season would go into effect April 9, 2015, immediately following an approval by the state’s Natural Resources Commission. It was presented to the commission on March 19 at its Roscommon meeting. A final decision is expected at its April 9 meeting, in East Lansing. Meanwhile, the public has until then to comment.
Keeping bass is currently verboten outside of the possession season, which begins May 23 on most Michigan waters, and June 20 on the St. Clair and Detroit rivers and Lake St. Clair. That’s because bass are usually on the beds spawning at that time. Not allowing anglers to keep them makes the fisheries more robust.
But CIR fishing is allowed some weeks earlier, once the walleye season opens on the last Saturday in April for Lower Peninsula waters, and May 15 on Upper Peninsula waters. The proposed change would allow CIR fishing year-round
The changes will expand fishing opportunities and simplify rules, according to DNR officials. The proposal comes after 15 months of discussion by agency fisheries and law staff, stakeholder groups, and public input.
Also proposed is a new “Catch-and-Delayed-Release season (CDR) for bass tournaments. Tournament anglers have wanted to see those opportunities expanded and DNR officials suggest that fishing tournaments are good for local economies.
“The expansion of bass fishing opportunities (CIR and CDR) will likely promote more in-state and out-of-state anglers to fish Michigan waters,” states a February 17, 2015 DNR fisheries division memo to the NRC. …”Increasing the ability to possess bass through a CDR season may also increase the State’s attraction for bass tournaments. B.A.S.S Elite Series Tournaments on LSC (Lake St. Clair) have contributed as much as $3 million to the local economy for one thee-day tournament.”
The CDR season would allow competitors keep their catches in a live-well until the weigh-in, rather than requiring they be immediately released. That’s been a sore point for some, who fear, particularly on Lake St. Clair, that removing a spawning bass from its nest area makes the nest susceptible to bass egg predation by gobies; and that catching and moving a spawning bass protecting its nest, makes the population more vulnerable. Lake St. Clair, in 2013, was named the top bass fishing lake in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine.
Research conducted on spawning bass does show some effect. A literature search by the DNR turned up the following, according to the above memo: “1) increased risk to individual bass when fishing over spawning bass, 2) a higher risk of nest abandonment and/or loss when removing bass even temporarily from the nest, and 3) no observed population level effects of early season CIR fishing.”
Their bottom line is essentially: Yes, something could happen, but not enough to affect the bass population. That assurance hasn’t been enough to cool the ire of more than 800 anglers who’ve signed an online petition at Change.org opposing the rule change.
DNR launch sites in 2015
If approved in April, CDR tournaments in 2015 would be permitted only on DNR public launch sites from the last Saturday in April through the Friday before Memorial Day on Great Lakes and Lower Peninsula waters; and from May 15 to that same Friday for Upper Peninsula waters. In 2016 the CDR season would run from similar opening dates through the end of the year and DNR officials anticipate that CDR tournaments will be allowed at other sites.
Any CDR tournament would also be required to register with the DNR, using the online Michigan Tournament Fishing Information System. The system, DNR officials say, is designed to help with tournament scheduling at DNR launch sites, as well as provide data about tournament fishing. Each tournament would be required to report the catch results by the end of the year.
If you have an opinion about the proposed CIR or CDR seasons, be sure to let it be known. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.