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Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Paul Bisbee of Bedford has a complaint about the striped bass fishing at Smith Mountain Lake. No, it isn't a gripe about how sorry the fishing is. Just the opposite.
Many of the fish that he and his friends catch are too large to be kept under the current Nov. 1-May 31 slot limit that requires the release of fish that measure 26- to-36 inches.
"The fishery for striped bass is outstanding, and it is very encouraging to see so many healthy fish," he said. "But considering the money spent on equipment and gas to travel to and fish on the lake, it would be nice to be able to take at least one fish home for the frying pan."
Bisbee has two recommendations: Make the slot limit a less intrusive 28-to-36 inches or allow an angler to keep one fish within the slot.
Any chance that will happen?
Probably not, said Dan Wilson, biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries who manages the fishery.
"The slot limit is designed to provide additional protection of larger fish since they are older and more difficult to replace when removed from the population," Wilson said. "Most anglers seem to be satisfied with the current regulation and it has generally accomplished what we designed it to."
This doesn't mean everyone is completely happy; which seldom is the case when it comes to fishing regulations. Some anglers want big fish while others want big numbers of fish, Wilson said.
The current slot limit was built around the idea of reestablishing the lake's bigger fish following a crash in the striped bass population that began a decade ago. Considerable progress has been made, although the production of citation fish is no where near what it was in the 70s when it reached 725 one year. Nor is it likely ever to return to those glory days.
"With the angler pressure and the angler's ability to catch these fish, managing and keeping decent numbers of older fish is a challenge, not just for me but the trend is the same in many of the striped bass fisheries in the country," Wilson said.
About the only way to keep decent numbers of older fish is to recycle them through catch and release, Wilson said. A tagging study in 2011 revealed that nearly 70 percent of the larger fish were caught within a year of being tagged.
If the slot limit were eased, "we would likely see a major decline in bigger fish," Wilson said. The bigger fish already are harvested in the warm-weather months when there is a no length limit June 1-Oct. 31. This doesn't allow for much "wiggle room" the remainder of the year, Wilson said.
Bisbee isn't going to argue his point. "I understand how difficult it is to try to satisfy such a diverse group of fishermen," he said.
Now for some bad news. Wilson is dealing with a new concern that has him puzzled.
"The number of fish over 30 inches has slipped recently primarily due to reduced growth. Many of the older fish just are not growing anymore and getting stuck in the 28-to-31-inch range indefinitely."
Wilson isn't sure what is happening. It could be parasites impacting the older fish or the lack of forage, or both. Right now, he is looking for answers.
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