Anglers Can Now Catch And Release Bass Year Round In Michigan

By on March 21, 2016
FishSens Pro Jeff Elliot, prepared for the elements of a Michigan autumn, with a few fall bass. (Credit: Jeff Elliot)

Anglers in Michigan can catch and release bass all year round, now that a multi-year effort spurring the rule change has wrapped up. Supporters of the move say that it’s a positive one and will net a lot of benefits to the sport of fishing in the mitten state.

“It’s been a 30-year process that we’ve been trying to get rid of the closed season. But the DNR (department of natural resources) finally agreed that it wouldn’t have negative impacts,” said Dan Kimmel, conservation director of the Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation. The biggest concern was that taking bass off their spawning beds could hurt their numbers in the long term. But Kimmel points out that the closed season already hit about 30 percent of the spawning period as well as some studies finding that catch-and-release fishing actually helps recruitment figures. “We were one of the last states with a closed season. When you’re an outlier like that, it should say something.”

He says that being one of the few states to have a closed season hurt Michigan and the upkeep of its waterways. License sales, he points out, are down 30 percent over the past 30 years. A lot of the fishermen, it seemed, just went to states nearby, like Illinois, that had more open rules. Angler access and retention both also suffered with the closed season, Kimmel says.

So he and others worked to spearhead the effort that lasted the better part of the last several years to get the rule changed. The big headaches in bringing about the switch came thanks to an odd switch-up of who had authority to make the rule change. Instead of the Michigan DNR, the call sat with another agency.

“It started out very tough. We had to pass two laws to even do the change,” said Kimmel. “One law had hard-coded limits, so we had to pass the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to change the authority. We had to do a Citizens’ Initiative where we had to collect over 300,000 signatures to give the authority back to the Natural Resources Commission.”

In Michigan, a Citizens’ Initiative allows for the state’s citizens to send a proposal directly to the legislature, provided there are enough valid signatures. The legislature then has a certain time frame during which to adopt or reject the measure.

The main opponent to the open bass season was the Humane Society of the United States, Kimmel says. But that group’s efforts couldn’t overtake the heft of a push from Michigan’s citizens.

Thanks to the change, Michigan anglers can now enjoy catch-and-immediate-release bass fishing year round.

“We’re already seeing a lot more happy anglers catching bass. Satisfaction is a big factor in retention and access,” said Kimmel. “It’s a shame we were sending a lot of our anglers out of state because we have some excellent spring bass fishing.”

And this year’s warm spell has helped some too. Kimmel says that warmer weather earlier in the season usually means more anglers will go out and pick up a license because there’s more time left in the year to enjoy it. Longer periods of colder weather, by contrast, typically mean that fishermen will more commonly pass on buying a license.

“We want to encourage all fishing,” said Kimmel. “We have more freshwater than anybody. We’re second only behind Florida in attracting anglers.”

There is still some work to be done to make the changes available for tournament anglers in Michigan, he says. But on any other day, those same fishermen can still enjoy the rule change.

“I was out celebrating on the day it passed. We ran into two or three other boats,” said Kimmel. “I heard one of the guys say, ‘Whoever got this law changed is awesome!’ I didn’t say anything, but that was nice to hear.”

Top image: FishSens Pro Jeff Elliot, prepared for the elements of a Michigan autumn, with a few fall bass. (Credit: Jeff Elliot)

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