Several big bass have been caught this spring on Oklahoma lakes. Some anglers have released their lunkers back into the lakes or ponds. Others have not, donating them to Bass Pro or taking them to the taxidermist for mounting.
Every time someone catches and keeps a big largemouth, I always hear complaints about how that fish should have been released.
Frankly, I am a fence-sitter on this issue. I applaud anyone who practices catch and release on any species. It’s a good idea, most of the time. However, there are times when biologists want anglers to keep fish and get them out of lakes like the current situation with spotted bass in Oklahoma.
But I also have trouble criticizing someone who keeps a fish they are legally entitled to keep. That’s one reason why we have fisheries biologists: to set proper limits to ensure good fishing in the future.
Part of the problem is that if you catch a big bass that might be a state record – or now even a lake record – you have to find certified scales to get it weighed.
That decreases the odds that the fish can be released unharmed back into the water anyway. And you certainly can’t fault someone for wanting a record.
I had a conversation last spring with Gene Gilliland, senior fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, after Allen Gifford of Davis landed a largemouth bass from Arbuckle Lake that fell just three ounces shy of the state record.
Gifford kept the fish – 14 pounds, 8 ounces – and a couple of my friends lamented that it was not released back into the lake.
Gilliland, also is a bass fisherman and tournament angler, said when a black bass reaches that size in Oklahoma, it’s very old and nearing the end of its life expectancy.
Even if Gifford’s fish could have been released alive, it’s unlikely it would have been caught again before it died.
Gilliland also pointed out that Gifford’s fish had already spawned many times over the years and contributed its trophy genes to Arbuckle’s young bass.
It’s more important for bass anglers to release those 7-, 8- and 9-pounders they catch, for those fish are the ones that potentially can grow another 5, 6 and 7 pounds. The state record largemouth is 14 pounds, 11 ounces and it’s been the record for 10 years.
Maybe Oklahoma lakes just can’t grow black bass any bigger?
Me, I would be happy just to have to make a decision about keeping or releasing a double-digit bass . So far, it hasn’t been a burden.