By Steve Chaconas
Culling Regulations On the Potomac
To pierce or not to pierce is confusing for Potomac River tournament anglers. Tournament fishermen can legally catch a limit, 5 fish over the minimum size, and then begin to cull out their smallest fish when replacing it with another larger fish. Possession of the 6th fish must accompany the release of one. To keep track of their fish, tournament anglers use some sort of culling organizer. Most if not all of them consist of a metal hook, similar to the old chain stringer hooks, and either colored or numbered floats. This allows anglers to quickly identify and retrieve the fish that needs to be put back. It also allows the fish to be attached to a scale or a balance beam to determine which is the smaller fish to be released.
The perceived problem is that the fish are harmed with the piercing of the lower jaw. This is even truer when the hooks are incorrectly pierced, allowing the chain to rip a large hole in the mouth of the fish or even breaking the jaw. Two things enable better use of these hooks. First, sharpen the point so they will penetrate easier. Then place the entry point close to the lower jaw of the fish. And then when removing the fish, use the chain to guide the fish to hand lip them to prevent putting too much pressure on the hook in the mouth of the fish.
In August 2016, the BASSMASTER Elite Series was caught by surprise when Maryland DNR set forth a requirement for all anglers to use non-piercing culling devices. Pros scrambled to find non-piercing clips, which were few and far between at the time. While B.A.S.S. complied, their Conservation Director Gene Gilliland pointed to a few factors. First, the organization had been suggesting anglers should voluntarily use non-penetrating culling clips or devices for culling as part of standard fish care practices. It was suggested this would help minimize possible fish injury and increase survival after release. In addition, Gilliland noticed that, on occasion, bass weighed in from heavily fished waters sometimes showed a higher percentage of culling injuries. However, Gilliland said they know these fish had been caught for a second (or greater) time and were feeding…and surviving. He contended there was no scientific information that showed penetrating culling clips or tags are having long-term negative effects on bass populations. For this season B.A.S.S. has implemented a non-piercing cull policy to achieve the highest survival of released fish possible. MD biologist Dr. Love suggests fish caught during the warmest months of the year with tears or rips from puncturing culling devices would be more susceptible to a greater risk of infection, and could cause further injury when used improperly.
Elite Series Ranger Mercury pro Dave Lefebre says some over-use culling devices anyway. In most fisheries, he knows certain fish will not likely be culled, like a Potomac 10 pounder. But, like the Potomac, some fisheries are won by ounces of cookie-cutter sized fish “I just don’t feel the need to use clips that much. I know my fish. I get 5 in the livewell and I don’t put them on unless I have to…usually only for small ones.” For Lefebre clipping fish, unless he has to, is a waste of tournament time. He usually clips only 3, rarely 4, and never 5. He shared the worry expressed by other pros that clips won’t stay on in the livewell, while retrieving fish or when using a balance beam. Others are just concerned about the change, doing something out of their long time routine.
At the first Elite Series event of the year, TH Marine provided anglers with their new G-Force Conservation Cull System. Pros are reporting these non-piercing clips stay in place and the balance beam system works well. Lefebre points to Rapala’s system with a digital scale that tracks total weight and weight of individual fish to assist in choosing the right fish to cull. Most pros are using this scale. After a keeper fish is caught, it is weighed and saved. All subsequent fish are also loaded into the scale with a corresponding number. When a limit is reached, culling is simple as the scale will indicate the smallest fish to release and replace.
But on the Potomac River, it is a bit confusing when it comes to the no-piercing culling device requirement. To be clear, it is not a Maryland regulation. Rather it is a provision applied to MD permitted events. Directors not required to obtain a permit aren’t required to adhere to its provisions. This only applies to events launched at Maryland ramps. The non-piercing cull device restriction is part of the permit that directors receive between June 16 and October 31. Exempted are tournaments with fewer than 10 boats or staged in a location outside of Maryland. Technically, events launched in Virginia or DC would be exempt from any stipulations, like reporting requirements or keeping fish in oxygenated water, which MD would otherwise apply to bass tournaments.
Potomac River Bassing in May
Fish are shallow and preparing to spawn. Lure choice depends on water clarity. Lipless crankbaits on 12-pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon line with a Quantum KVD cranking rod and a high speed Quantum Vapor reel is the most effective tool. Engage the grass, snap free, and hesitate. Darker colors in stained water and under cloudy skies. Shad patterns otherwise.
Mann’s Classic spinnerbaits on 12-pound Edge also probe the shallow grass. Again, engage and snap free. Mann’s Baby 1-Minus is best over wood cover or over grass during lower tides. Firetiger is a good color most of the time.
Pitch Mizmo tubes on 3/0 Mustad Mega Bite hooks with 12-pound Edge to target holes in the grass. A 3/16-ounce Water Gremlin Bullshot weight will get the bait into the strike zone.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide & contributing writer for BoatUS.com. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com