DNR proposes lifting C-and-R restrictions for bass on four popular lakes

DAVIS, W.Va. — An over abundance of bass at four popular fishing lakes in western West Virginia has state biologists concerned it may negatively impact the number of larger fish anglers enjoy catching.

Therefore, the Division of Natural Resources has proposed lifting the longtime catch and release regulation on North Bend, Woodrum, O’Brien, and Elk Fork Lakes. Instead, the Natural Resources Commission will consider a change at their next meeting in July to establish a six-fish limit, but only one could be over 16 inches in length for black bass at all four impoundments.

“All have been catch and release since they were created. Now looking at about 20 years of bass data which is showing some deleterious effects of that, I think some harvest is probably justified at all of them,” said Nate Taylor, Fisheries Biologist of DNR District 6.

The limit of one fish over 16-inches, according to Taylor, will leave some of the larger bass in the lakes, but will also allow any angler who might eventually catch a state record from one of the waters the opportunity to have it certified.

The issue which creates a management concern for Taylor isn’t big fish, it’s the high number of smaller fish.

“North Bend and Woodrum in particular, we’re seeing really high density of smaller fish. Our average size in those lakes is 10 to 12 inches. I’d really like to thin that lower end out,” said Taylor. “Elk Fork we get a tremendous amount of fish in there. Historically we used to get about 500 fish an hour shocking, we’re down now to about 250 an hour, but it’s still extremely high in comparison to most lakes in the state.”

O’Brien has its own set of issues according to Taylor. The impoundment has a large number of big bass, but he said with some adjustment he thinks they can get bigger.

“They get about 10 years old and they get to about 20-inches and they essentially stop growing at O’Brien. There’s very few fish exceeding 21or 22-inches. I think a little bit of harvest on that upper end may allow them to exceed those lengths,” he said.

Taylor also addressed concerns some anglers raised about predation, particularly from musky. He said there’s no evidence it’s hurting the lake, in fact he believes it would be a positive if it were happening.

“We only have muskies at North Bend and Woodrum. I’d say they’d eat some (bass), but typically muskie prefer softer fish and gizzard shad and spotted suckers are present in both so that’s primarily what they are eating. But those are also the two lakes we’re seeing an over abundance of smaller bass which is what the muskies would be consuming if they were eating bass. I think they would only potentially improve the size structure in those lakes if they were consuming bass,” said Taylor.

Although die-hard bass anglers are largely supportive of the catch and release ethic, Taylor said it can reach a point of diminished returns. He added, just because the regulation changes doesn’t mean a big number of anglers will suddenly start hauling stringers full of bass limits home. Some won’t keep the fish even if they are allowed.

The proposed regulation change was reviewed at the recent Natural Resources Commission meeting at Blackwater Falls. The Commission will vote on the change at its next regularly scheduled meeting July 21 at Twin Falls State Park.

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