By Dr. Hal Schramm

Bass harvest regulations are scientifically designed to improve fisheries through restricting harvest via overall limits, minimum length limits and protected slot limits. First, let’s address what Minimum Length Limits and Slot Limits are intended to accomplish:

Minimum Length Limit – If bass recruitment (fry living to grow to catchable size) is limited, a Minimum Length Limit allows more small fish to grow into adulthood.

Slot Length Limits – If bass recruitment is high, a protected Slot Length Limit reduces the adult population so the survivors have plenty of food to grow bigger.

Super Oversimplified – If there are too many small, juvenile bass or simply not enough adults in the population, a minimum length limit allows the smaller fish to grow. If the bass population is already healthy, a slot limit will allow for selective harvest to trim the numbers, allowing the remaining fish to grow bigger.

The reasoning behind a minimum length limit is pretty obvious. If few catchable bass are available, protect the bass (no harvest) until they reach some “acceptable” length.

The reasoning behind a protected slot limit is not so obvious. With high recruitment, forage can be limited and growth will be slow. There are lots of small, slow-growing adult fish. Reducing the number of small bass (those “under-the-slot” fish) leaves more food for the survivors and larger bass, resulting in faster growth.
harvest bass
This all sounds scientifically reliable, so where’s the problem? It may be that we’ve simply gotten too into catch-and-release bass fishing. Regulations only work if anglers follow the recommendations, and that often means keeping a few fish.

In Germany, animal welfare laws mandate that fish can only be caught for human subsistence and, therefore, must be harvested. Here in America, you’re not breaking the law by throwing back a fish shorter than the slot limit, but you are violating the intent of harvest regulations.

I know what some of you are thinking: that 12- or 13-inch bass hanging from your crankbait may grow to 8 pounds if you let it live. Possibly, but if the lake has a slot limit, it is more likely that your fish will spend its next years constantly hungry and growing to only 3 pounds.

How does an angler know whether bass should be harvested from a particular water body? Simple: If the fishery has a minimum length limit, it needs more bass, so catch and release. If the fishery has a slot limit, those regulations are telling you to keep the legal limit of bass smaller than the slot.

There is a new bass regulation getting some attention. It’s a maximum length limit that Florida (and maybe other states) is considering. The reg would be something like 16-inch maximum length limit with one over. Modeling studies have shown that a maximum length limit is a more effective way to produce trophy bass.

What I like is that it encourages anglers to keep fish with enough meat to make it worth an angler’s time to get the cleaning board dirty, and it protects quality bass to grow to truly trophy proportions. But, maximum length limits are a ways off.

For the here and now, I strongly encourage you to:

1.    Know the regulation on the water body you are fishing.
2.    Harvest the legal daily limit below the slot where a slot limit is in effect.

Small tournaments can have an especially large and beneficial effect on our bass fisheries by heeding this plea. The meat can then be used for a fund-raising fish fry or donated to a non-profit organization.