Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and Spotted Bass Management and Fishing in Pennsylvania
Prepared by R. Lorantas, D. Kristine and C. Hobbs
PFBC Warmwater Unit
2005 (stocking numbers updated after 2005)
Goal: Maintain or enhance largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass sport fishing through harvest management of naturally sustained bass populations and through habitat preservation and enhancement. Judiciously stock largemouth and smallmouth bass in compatible new and reclaimed habitats.
Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass occur throughout Pennsylvania and were originally indigenous to the Ohio River and Lake Erie Drainage. Spotted bass, Pennsylvania’s most rare black bass, occurs only in the Ohio River drainage. The Ohio drainage includes the Ohio River, Allegheny River and Monongahela River drainages. Largemouth bass typically predominate in reservoirs and lakes and occur at lower densities in slow moving rivers and streams within these drainages. Smallmouth bass are typically abundant in rivers, warmwater streams and medium to large size lakes and reservoirs in these drainages. Spotted bass are most abundant within a 20 mile radius of the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.
In the Lake Erie drainage largemouth bass are largely confined to Presque Isle Bay, however smallmouth bass are abundant in Lake Erie as well as Presque Isle Bay. Smallmouth bass and largemouth bass stocking by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and other agencies over a century ago into the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Potomac River Drainages lead to colonization of waters within these drainages, and both species are now self-sustaining in these drainages. Most natural warm-water lakes and man-made reservoirs in Pennsylvania contain self–sustaining largemouth and smallmouth bass populations. In the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers smallmouth bass predominate with largemouth bass largely confined to the tidal portions of these rivers where they typically outnumber smallmouth bass. In the Susquehanna River, smallmouth bass also predominate, largemouth bass are found primarily in power dam pools in lower density than smallmouth bass. Generally in Pennsylvania largemouth bass occur at lower densities in rivers compared to smallmouth bass. However, largemouth can frequently be found at higher densities in shallow reservoirs or shallow lakes compared to smallmouth bass. In large and medium size reservoirs frequently both largemouth bass and smallmouth bass occur.
Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass populations, both indigenous and those that have become naturalized are managed for sport fishing through harvest management, habitat management, habitat enhancement, and through stocking. Stocking smallmouth bass and largemouth bass, in particular, typically occurs in conjunction with establishing self-sustaining populations in newly filled or newly reclaimed reservoirs. Stocking smallmouth bass in warmwater streams and rivers takes place when water quality improvements will accommodate survival of black bass. Stocking is carried out for one to several years to establish a self-sustaining population. Since 1974, fingerling and adult largemouth bass have been stocked to establish or re-establish diminished populations (Table 1). Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass populations in Pennsylvania waterways are not sustained through annual maintenance stocking. Spotted bass stocking does not take place and occurrence in reservoirs and lakes in Pennsylvania is unknown.
|Table 1.|| Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass stocking by the
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
|Year||Largemoth bass||Smallmouth bass|
Latest Stocking Information
With respect to harvest management, inland regulations differ slightly on rivers and on lakes. Prior to 2000, a closed season existed from mid-April to mid-June, no bass fishing was permitted at that time. This period generally corresponded to the time of black bass spawning in Pennsylvania and some anglers and scientists were concerned that fishing during this period would reduce juvenile production and ultimately adult bass density. Currently, there is no field study that conclusively indicates that catch and release fishing during the spawning period subsequently reduces density of adult bass at the population level. Many other fish species are pursued in Pennsylvania waters from mid-April to mid-June, black bass were inadvertently or intentionally caught at that time. Recognizing that black bass capture would inevitably take place from mid-April to mid-June, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission accommodated limited catch and immediate release bass fishing at that time, however additional harvest restrictions were put in place in conjunction with the change. Specifically greater harvest restrictions were put in place during cold weather periods. Greater harvest restrictions were designed to ameliorate catch-and-release loss that was expected to occur in conjunction with catch-and-release fishing from mid-April to mid-June. Making up for loss required that a cool weather harvest restriction yield sufficient saving of adult black bass to effectively make up for catch-and-release losses. On lakes it was expected that harvest restrictions during cool weather and during ice fishing periods would yield sufficient saving if restrictions began in November. On rivers, surveys showed limited fishing after November, thus few bass would be saved after November. This finding indicated that it was necessary to apply restrictions to rivers beginning in October so that sufficient numbers of bass were preserved to make up for catch and release loss. For lakes, application of restrictions in November was deemed sufficient to make up for losses. Thus, the 12 inch minimum size limit and 6 bass creel limit was applied from mid-June through September on rivers to and through October on lakes. (Tip: to remember the last month of the “regular” bass season for inland waters, the “S” in September can be thought of as symbolizing a river or stream and the “O” in October can be thought of as symbolizing a lake). Harvest restrictions in the cold weather period included a 15 inch minimum size limit and 4 fish creel limit, which extends through the following year to mid-April. The restricted catch and release period from mid-April to mid-June requires immediate release of all bass caught, forbids anglers from repeatedly casting into a clearly visible bass spawning nest, and does not permit bass tournaments.
In addition to inland bass harvest regulations, a more restrictive set of harvest regulations, Big Bass regulations, apply to a selected sub-set of waters that meet specific criteria with respect to resource productivity, bass growth, and bass exploitation characteristics. The number of waters in this program now exceeds 60 waters. Specifically more productive waters with above average length at each age and in which fishing pressure and harvest are above average, qualify for inclusion. Biologists have found that waters meeting these criteria are capable of supporting greater densities of larger size largemouth bass and smallmouth bass and higher length limits foster increased density of both bass species. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists have documented increases in densities of largemouth bass and smallmouth bass over 15 inches in most waters where Big Bass regulations apply compared to densities prior to implementing these more restrictive regulations. Waters in this program have become popular destinations for bass fishing enthusiasts seeking trophy size black bass. Big Bass regulations within the range of spotted bass include a segment of the lower Allegheny River. Waters in this program would be expected to produce large size spotted bass, however relatively few spotted bass would be expected to reach the 15 inch minimum size limit based upon their growth characteristics.
The restricted catch and release period for bass also applies to waters in the Big Bass program. For these waters catch and release loss was accounted for differently. Generally, mitigation for catch and release losses was considered to occur “in advance” for lakes and reservoirs in the Big Bass program, that is restrictive harvest to make up for losses occurred when these regulations were initially applied. For these waters a 15 inch minimum size limit with a 4 fish creel limit applied from mid-June through the following mid-April. Since flow conditions on rivers can substantially influence production of young, and influence survival of older bass, further harvest restrictions were applied to rivers during the cold weather period to enhance adult bass density. On rivers in the Big Bass program an 18 inch minimum size limit with a two bass creel limit begins after September and extends to the following mid-April. This size limit has greatest influence upon smallmouth bass and largemouth bass, since few, if any spotted bass would be expected to attain the 18 inch size limit, given their growth characteristics.
More specialized harvest regulations apply to some waters, including slot limits where harvest of black bass from 12 to 18 inches is prohibited. A goal of the slot limit is to reduce density of smaller bass to enhance growth, and protect the faster growing bass at intermediate sizes such that they attain large size. Successful application depends upon bass populations consistently producing large numbers of young and the willingness of anglers to harvest and remove small bass from those populations. This regulation is currently under evaluation in Pennsylvania at Lake Winola (Wyoming County).
Habitat enhancement involves careful evaluation of a water body’s physical, biological, and chemical characteristics. Enhancement of a water body may mean identification of an acidified discharge or tributary that limits biological productivity and exploration of means to minimize its impacts. Considering reservoirs, high densities of aquatic vegetation may negatively affect largemouth bass size structure and abundance by limiting access of largemouth bass to prey (too much cover). Here vegetation control through planned over winter partial draw-down will freeze and desiccate near shore vegetation and serve to restore predator and prey balance following spring-time re-filling. Assessments may show a lack of spawning or nursery habitat, in these instances artificial or natural materials may be added to create such habitat. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has an active corps of volunteers that assist in placement of structures after an approved plan has been developed. We encourage organizations interested in volunteering time to contact our Habitat Unit.
Biologists regularly monitor adult bass density and young bass density, and tabulate catch and harvest of bass by anglers. In association with these evaluations growth of largemouth bass is also examined by measuring length, weight, and taking a scale sample to determine age. In Pennsylvania, a 12 inch largemouth bass is approximately 4 years old (Fig. 1) and weights 0.8 pounds, when largemouth bass are 15 inches in length they are approximately 5.6 years old and weight approximately 1.7 pounds. We have tabulated average ages and weights for a variety of lengths of largemouth bass in Pennsylvania (Table 2). In Pennsylvania, a 12 inch smallmouth bass is approximately 4 years old (Fig. 1) and weights 0.8 pounds, when smallmouth bass are 15 inches in length they are approximately 6.4 years old and weight approximately 1.7 pounds. We have tabulated average ages and weights for a variety of lengths of smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania (Table 2). In Pennsylvania, a 12 inch spotted bass is approximately 6 years old (Fig. 1) and weights 0.9 pounds, in Pennsylvania spotted bass rarely reach 15 inches in length, such individuals would likely exceed 16 years of age and weigh approximately 1.8 pounds. We have tabulated average ages and weights for a variety of lengths of spotted bass in Pennsylvania (Table 2). Anglers find these tables useful in approximating the weight and age of their catch. In standard biological collections, the decrease in relative or absolute number of black bass at each age, can be used to describe the total annual mortality rate of largemouth bass. On average the total annual mortality rate for largemouth bass is 58 % loss is 60% for smallmouth bass, these include annual losses due to fishing and loss due to natural circumstances such as predation and disease.
Figure 1. Average length of largemouth bass (March-June), smallmouth bass (July-September), spotted
collected by Fisheries Biologists in assessment gear in Pennsylvania.
Table 2. Average weight and average age of largemouth bass (March-June),
smallmouth bass (July-September) and spotted bass (March-October).
|Inches||Largemouth bass||Smallmouth bass||Spotted bass|
|4||0.1||0.6||0.1||0.1||< 0.1||< 0.1|
|4.5||0.1||0.8||0.1||0.3||< 0.1||< 0.1|
|23||6.8||> 16.1||6.3||> 16.6||...||...|
|23.5||7.3||> 16.1||6.7||> 16.6||...||...|
|24||7.9||> 16.1||7.2||> 16.6||...||...|
|24.5||8.4||> 16.1||7.7||> 16.6||...||...|
|25||9||> 16.1||8.2||> 16.6||...||...|
Tabulating catch and harvest by anglers from various waterways is essential in developing harvest regulations. Information derived from these creel surveys is of interest to anglers since seasonal peaks in catch occur for most species. Black bass can be caught most any time of year, generally though, highest catch per hour occurs in spring through fall with highest catch rates occurring in fall in medium and large size reservoirs (Fig. 2 and 3). On rivers smallmouth bass catch rates are highest in summer (Fig. 4). With fishing destinations identified from maps on this site and information describing the best seasons to catch black bass, anglers need only select an effective bait or lure. For largemouth smallmouth and spotted bass, all top predators, there are a plethora of fishing lure options that include live shiners and live worm rigs to a host of artificial baits. Artificial baits are the mainstay of many bass anglers and range from jigs, rubber worms, spinners, plugs, crank baits, stick baits all of which can be fished or rigged to attractively present the bait to the bass shallow or deep, in cover or open water. Local tackle shops, guides, outdoor writers, and local bass clubs have the most knowledge about baits and presentations that are most effective in waters in their “backyard.” With modest perseverance any angler willing to experiment with baits and presentations can be very successful in catching bass on any water in which they occur in Pennsylvania.
Catch and release bass fishing is a popular practice among bass anglers in Pennsylvania. Anglers should quickly remove hooks or lures from bass they intend to release and quickly return the fish to water to insure the fish will survive to be caught again. Return of fish to the water quickly is important to insure high post-release survival.
Figure 2. Average catch per angler hour of black bass from medium size Pennsylvania reservoirs.
Figure 3. Average catch per angler hour of black bass from large size Pennsylvania reservoirs.
Figure 4. Average catch per angler hour of black bass from Pennsylvania rivers.
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