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Lower Limits – Bigger Fish, Who’d Have Thunk It?

by: David Coulson , Colorado 10/6/2015

I figured I would have been up to full speed by now.  Not so.  I guess the doctors do know something.  For better or worse they were right when they told me it was going to take some time before I’m back to “normal”, weeks rather than days.  Two weeks since surgery and it still hurts a bit to get around and when I do, I tire quickly.  Consequently, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time in the recliner watching TV and reading.

The good side to that is I’m working my way through the backlog of fishing magazines stacked up on the office coffee table.  As I work through them I’m setting aside pieces that offer fodder for future blogs, such as this one. 

In the November issue of In-Fisherman I ran across a short piece by Gabe Gries titled, “Bluegill Bag Limits.”  It was based on a recently published article in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, “Effects of reduced daily bag limit on bluegill size structure in Wisconsin lakes”. The gist of the piece is that reduction of limits from 25 fish to 10 fish, in general, resulted in an increase of both average and maximum size of bluegill.

Needless to say, I downloaded the article, as you can do, and gave it a read.  While not absolute, it appears that reduced harvest of bluegill results in bigger fish.  The effects are most pronounced the longer the regulations are in place and work best the more productive (fertile) the lake is. 

Then today in an email newsletter from In-Fisherman was this piece, “Managing Bluegills”.  In this piece, Dr. Hal Schramm, states that strategy producing to producing big ‘gills has been to

(1) keep the numbers of intermediate-size bluegills sufficiently low so the surviving bluegills have plenty to eat and grow quickly to quality size and beyond; and (2) don’t over-harvest large bluegills.” 

The trick is keeping the smaller ‘gills thinned down.  Anglers typically don’t harvest enough small fish to do the job, opting for the ‘gills they should leave instead. Predators such as largemouth bass do a better job.

I’ll admit that these articles tend to reinforce what I’ve been “preaching” for some time.  Simply, if you want big fish, you can’t be harvesting limits of them.  Currently the limit for bluegill (sunfish) in Colorado is twenty, and I can assure you, it’s rare I see folks stop short of twenty fish when they’re keeping them.  Opting to kill all they can, the bigger the better. Release is typically a strategy exercised to leave small fish to “grow-up”.  Not understanding that keeping the prize breeding fish sets the stage for smaller fish.

While these pieces are geared toward bluegill, I suspect the principles apply to most fish species, especially sunfish.  The bottom-line, to me anyway, is we need to move more toward harvesting only what we need for a meal today, and even then, we need to practice releasing the “trophies” no matter the species, if, and it’s a BIG IF, we want to catch bigger fish. 

With today’s pressure on fishing resources I believe we can continue to have a fish meal on occasion, but if we want big fish, we definitely need to limit our kill, rather than killing our limit, especially of big fish.

Blog content © David Coulson
Member comments
anglerwannabe, CO   10/6/2015 5:12:28 PM
great stuff Dave and very happy to see you making the most of your mending time! I believe if you look at some of our gold medal waters here in CO that is precisely what they do and there are some very healthy populations of fish.
 
esoxrocks, CO   10/6/2015 6:34:24 PM
You can put me on the list of pro-selective harvest people. While I know the rules allow what the rules allow... it still gets to me to see large fish laid out on a cleaning table.
 
Whiskerhunter, CO   10/6/2015 9:26:27 PM
Nice Dave. If only the "powers that be" here in Colorado would start thinking like that. We can only hope....
 
brookieflyfisher, CO   10/6/2015 10:07:25 PM
Big panfish are surprisingly old. A 10" crappie in Colorado is going to be a 5+ year old fish. So a 10" crappie is about as old as a 15-18" bass...I think it's pretty obvious why there aren't many strong crappie fisheries in this state...
 
Kev-o, CO   10/6/2015 10:15:52 PM
Brookie you're right big panfish are much older than you'd think they are. I just got back from wisconsin and on the back of the regs there is information about their growth, I'll make a post about it with a pic tomorrow.
 
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   10/7/2015 7:42:23 AM
Good to be feeling up to writing again that's for sure. Now if I can just get my endurance up a bit to hit the water this weekend. Hopefully, more anglers will come to realize that limits are about "sharing" more than management tools, although that is changing. Anglers do impact the fisheries and by understanding what's going on, modifying how we harvest, working with fish and game departments and getting the word out, I believe we can have great fisheries for years to come. And that includes harvesting a few. Don't know about you, but I do enjoy eating fish.
 
Hawkeye1218, CO   10/12/2015 7:49:20 AM
I like the way you think Dave. I practice catch and release mostly butt I think it is important to be selective if you plan on keeping a fish for a meal. I met Dave at Lake Loveland and I was impressed with his reasoning and Knowledge of fishing. Very insightful
 
JOHN_COSprings, CO   10/14/2015 7:25:10 AM
You would think this information is common sense, but it does help to see it backed up with a few official reports. Sometimes I feel like anglers see a "limit" as a challenge, a number that they can and must reach - harvest wise.
 
David Coulson
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