They kept only 550,000 of the 10 million small mouth and largemouth bass they caught in 2006, according to a mail survey of anglers. In contrast, Wisconsin anglers in the same year kept about 30 percent of the walleye they caught, or 2.2 million of 7 million caught.
In some places in northern Wisconsin, bass are very abundant and can make a tasty meal. Fisheries managers are encouraging harvest on these waters to keep the numbers in balance and to improve bass growth rates. As always, larger bass are less common and anglers should consider releasing them.
“No one should feel bad about harvesting largemouth bass in northwest Wisconsin,” says DNR fisheries biologist Larry Damman, who is stationed in Spooner. “They are our most abundant and under-utilized, naturally reproducing game fish. High minimum size limits coupled with angler catch and release ethic have resulted in many lakes with over abundant, stunted populations where few largemouth ever reach legal size. The biological need is to harvest fish less than the present minimum size limit.”
Here are 10 waters to try in northwestern Wisconsin where harvest is encouraged and there are no minimum length limits. Check the Hook and Line Regulations for 2009-2010 for specific regulations.
Polk County: Balsam, Butternut Lake; Big Round Lake; Half Moon Lake; Pipe Lake and Ward Lake.
Washburn County: Big McKenzie Lake and Middle McKenzie Lake, both of which are actually in the southern bass zone, and Long Lake and Nancy Lake.
For anglers who don’t automatically think of bass as shore lunch, here are some recipes shared by Larry Sperling, editor of Natural Resources magazine, to whet their appetite. Remember to follow the safe eating guidelines to enjoy eating your catch while limiting exposure to environmental contaminants like mercury and PCBs.
STEAMED ASIAN-STYLE BASS
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
One 1 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (3 tablespoons)
2 1/2-pounds bass, skin-on, scaled fillets
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 scallion, cut into 2-inch julienne strips
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil in a small skillet. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook over high heat, stirring once or twice, until browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the ginger.
- In a large wok, set a steamer or round rack that will sit at least three inches above the bottom. If you don’t have a wok, just place a vegetable steamer in the bottom of a Dutch oven or four-quart pot with a cover. Add 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Set the fish on a heatproof plate that will fit in the wok or pot and sprinkle the onion and ginger on the fish. Set the plate on the rack, cover the wok and steam the fish over moderate heat until just cooked through, about 20 minutes.
- Drizzle the fish with soy sauce. In a small skillet, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanut oil with the sesame oil over moderately high heat, then pour it over the fish. Sprinkle with the cilantro and scallion and serve.
Buy commercial blackened fish spice or make your own
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon white pepper
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Margarine (not butter), meltedFresh bass fillets, about one pound apiece
- Mix spice mix together and store in a shaker bottle.
- Dip fish fillets in margarine and refrigerate on waxed paper or in a pan until margarine is congealed.
- Sprinkle both sides of fish liberally with the spice mix.
- Heat a cast iron pan outside at least 10 minutes until it is blistering hot. Place one tablespoon margarine in bottom of pan and immediately place fish fillet into pan. The fish will cook so hot and almost steam while it is cooking. Turn once after a few minutes when the fillet is speckled with light dark brown spots of cooked spice. Turn only once, remove and keep warm in oven until all fillets are cooked. Let the pan reheat between batches. Cooking time per side will vary with thickness. Generally allow 1 ½ minutes peer side per inch of thickness.
Note: DO NOT try this inside. The smoke, odors and spattering from the hot cooking surface will stink up any kitchen and is a pain to clean. This is an ideal dish for a campfire.
BASS FISH BALLS OR PATTIES
1 pound cooked bass, cooled and minced
1 small onion minced fine
1/2 fresh hot pepper or 1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon thyme, fresh, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
- Cook bass by poaching or boiling in a minimal amount of water. Cool, mince with a fork and set aside.
- In a small bowl, mince the fish with a fork. Add the onion, pepper, garlic, thyme and salt and mix. Add minimal water to moisten the fish mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Sprinkle the dry ingredients into the fish mix until it is firm enough to form small balls or flattened patties.
- Heat a skillet on the stove top and heat about a quarter-inch of oil in the bottom. Form the fish mixture into one-inch balls or half-inch thick patties. Fry small quantities in the hot oil until brown. Transfer browned balls or patties to a serving dish lined with paper towel and serve with lemon slices or tartar sauce.
Eight fresh bass fillets, about eight to 12 ounces apiece
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups crushed crackers, dried potato flakes, seasoned bread crumbs or corn flake crumbs
Two cups cooking oil
- Set up three pans to dip the fish. In the first pan, mix flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Set aside. In the second pan, beat eggs and water until frothy. Set aside. In the third pan, place crumb mixture of choice.
- Dredge fish fillets in the seasoned flour mix on both sides and shake off excess. Dip coated fillet in egg wash on both sides. Lift fillet and let excess liquid drain back into the pan. Dip fillet in final crumb mixture, patting mix on both sides. Set coated fillets aside until ready to cook.
- Heat oil in pan and cook fish a few fillets at a time until golden brown on each side. Let the oil warm up to frying temperature again between batches Place cooked fish on a platter lined with paper towel and keep warm in a 250 degree oven until all fillets are cooked. Serve with lemon slices, malt vinegar or tartar sauce.