Bass populations, catch rates at all-time highs
SPOONER – The northern zone bass harvest season opens June 19 with state fisheries biologists saying the bass fishing opportunities arguably have never been better.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass populations are booming in northern Wisconsin, particularly in northwest Wisconsin, and anglers can expect fast and furious action this summer, fish biologists say.
“The densities are extremely high right now,” says Jamison Wendel, fisheries biologist in Spooner. “There are lots of smaller fish, so there’s all kinds of action.”
Surveys of northern Wisconsin anglers who target bass show that anglers are reeling in the bass faster than ever.
Wendel says the fact that catch rates have increased quite dramatically in the last 20 years while harvest rates have been stayed flat or decreased is not typical. “It’s kind of an indication of a few things: changes in regulation as well as smaller fish being caught that anglers are not as interested in keeping, as well as more anglers practicing catch and release.”
Whether it’s the low water levels experienced in northern Wisconsin, which favor bass, warmer water temperatures, or a number of other factors, bass populations and catch rates in many waters are at all-time highs.
Learn more about some of the reasons why bass populations, particularly populations of largemouths, are on the rise in “Sustaining a fishery of fighting natural change?” in the June 2010 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, available now on news stands, and online.
The northern bass zone harvest season runs from June 19, 2010, through March 6, 2011. The daily limit is five bass in total, with a minimum length of 14 inches. Check the “Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations 2010-2011” for special regulations on some waters.
The 2010 Wisconsin Fishing Report contains information about how fish populations are faring, particularly on those waters where DNR fisheries crews have recently conducted fish population surveys or done habitat work. Below are excerpted forecasts that mention bass populations in northern Wisconsin, including many in the northern bass zone. These fishing forecasts are not inclusive, but represent what the fish managers want to highlight for the 2010 fishing season.
Ashland County - May and June are excellent months to target trophy smallmouth bass in the shallow waters of Chequamegon Bay. Spring 2009 surveys found 42 percent of the spawning smallmouth bass were greater than 18 inches. - Mike Seider, fisheries biologist, Bayfield
Burnett County - Largemouth bass and bluegill provide the fishing action in Burnett County and it doesn’t matter which lake you fish. Angler catch rates for largemouth run about 10 times higher than the rest of the state. Size limits and a strong catch-and-release ethic caused populations to increase, but growth rates declined. The chance of catching one larger than 16 inches isn’t very good. Still, catching lots of 11- to 15-inch bass on light tackle is a fun day on the water. – Larry Damman, fisheries biologist, Spooner
Douglas County - Anglers looking for a balanced fishery including walleye, small and largemouth bass, northern pike and an occasional musky along with a good bluegill and black crappie fishery should consider Upper St. Croix Lake. Largemouth bass populations have more than doubled since 1997 and smallmouth bass numbers have declined slightly in the same period. Both bass species average between 12 and 13 inches but can reach 19 inches or more in the lake. – Scott Toshner, fisheries biologist, Brule
Iron County - Turtle Flambeau Flowage supports an exceptional smallmouth bass fishery in terms of numbers and average size. Pound for pound, the smallmouth is known for its exceptional fighting ability. “Smallies” found in the flowage are easily caught in summer and are extremely robust for their length. These exceptionally heavy fish provide anglers with an extraordinary angling experience. – Jeff Roth, fisheries biologist, Mercer (Roth has retired since filing that report in December 2009)
Langlade County - The largemouth bass population in Phlox Lake s abundant with many in the 11- to 17-inch range. - Dave Seibel, fisheries biologist, Antigo
Oneida County - Largemouth bass are abundant on Squash Lake, with size centered on 14 inches. On Gilmore Lake, a comprehensive survey found abundant largemouth bass. Largemouth bass eight to 16 inches long were fairly numerous while few smallmouth were captured. – John Kubisiak, fisheries biologist, Rhinelander
Polk County – Largemouth bass are abundant on Big and Little Blake lakes. Bass growth is slower than average and most of the bass collected were less than 14 inches long. Northern pike and musky have been captured in low numbers in each lake, but the fish were in excellent condition. Largemouth bass on Deer Lake are abundant and growth and size structure appears to be declining with many bass in the 11- to 13- inch range. Largemouth bass and northern pike dominate Largon Lake. Largemouth bass provide another quality fishery with larger than average size fish present. Largemouth bass and northern pike are the primary game fish in Poplar Lake. Bass size structure is slightly below average but densities have improved when compared to past surveys. - Heath Benike, senior fisheries biologist, Barron
Rusk County - Strong river currents, canyon-like shorelines, darkstained water and fish moving long distances between dams challenged surveyors in this series of reservoirs, so it is uncertain that results from fall 2008 and spring 2009 surveys reflect the true status of sportfish in Big Falls, Dairyland, Ladysmith, and the Thornapple flowages. Nonetheless, it is possible to cautiously compare findings from those surveys with goals that anglers helped define in 2005.Electrofishing capture rates for smallmouth bass seven inches and longer ranged from 16 to 28 per hour in the four flowages compared to 50 to 100 bass per hour, the measure of desired abundance. Proportions of bass 14 inches or longer ranged from zero percent in Thornapple Flowage to 29 percent in Dairyland and Ladysmith, suggesting that smallmouth did not achieve the target range of 40 to 60 percent. - Jeff Scheirer, fisheries biologist, Park Falls
Taylor County - Netting in spring 2009 showed that largemouth bass were twice as abundant in North Spirit Lake as in Spirit Lake, but Spirit Lake held a greater proportion of bass 15 inches or longer (62 percent versus 26 percent.) - Jeff Scheirer, fisheries biologist, Park Falls