By Steve Chaconas
Groups of tournament bass anglers gather nearly every weekend and often during the week as well. They launch at safe light and return with their day’s catch in the early afternoon. With two fishermen on the boat and a five fish limit in a field of 50 boats or more, at least 500 fish are brought to the scales alive. They are released alive at the launch site. With several events conducted concurrently, thousands of fish are released in the launch area every week. In VA and MD there are nearly 1500 tournaments a year.
It’s called stockpiling. Tournament release fish pile up at launch sites. More than 70% of the country’s fisheries managers are concerned with this catch and release side effect. Studies aren’t conclusive as to what happens next. Various methodologies are used to track released fish.
Moving fish around and handling stress are major concerns of fisheries managers. Tagging studies monitor rates of dispersal from release points to capture areas. Return is dependent on how far away they were released. Also, higher stress limits return. When displaced more than 20 miles, return is more unlikely.
To address and curtail stockpiling, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Black Bass Advisory Committee is encouraging several Best Management Practices. Reducing the number of fish released at the site can be accomplished with a redistributing plan, to include moving fish by boat or truck or long chutes to move fish away. Working as a partner with tournament organizers, MD DNR will coordinate with organizations to redistribute some fish when requested. If considered biologically necessary and if the organization offsets expenses and provides volunteers, arrangements for release trucks can be set up.
Creating fishing off-limits areas at release sites gives fish an opportunity to recover and disperse. By using multiple launch sites, fewer fish will be centralized, redistributing fish in other areas of the fishery. By lowering creel limits, fewer fish will be released, reducing the number of stockpiled fish. A “fishable slot” reducing the number of larger fish brought to weigh-in protects this population. Shrinking the field, restricting the distance from the launch site, enables likely return to capture areas. New tournament formats that promote no-possession events eliminate stockpiling altogether.
Anglers aren’t concerned with stockpiling. They should be as they bring the largest fish in the body of water to the weigh-in. These are older fish, more susceptible to stress, resulting in fewer larger fish. But for tournament anglers, it’s stocking they believe will address their fishing needs. MD DNR has been stocking fisheries, including the Potomac, for decades. Hundreds of thousands of bass are stocked yearly. However, MD stocks fish, 3 inches and smaller. The expense and time it takes to produce bigger bass prohibits stocking of larger mature fish. Producing a sustainable fishery is dependent on the number of juveniles that reach sexual maturity. Small fry are vulnerable to predators and other environmental factors. Viability of older age classes is reliant on a release site’s availability of food, water quality, and the relative abundance of predators.
In Virginia in 2013, angler members of the Concerned Bass Anglers of Virginia raised funds and initiated stocking of F-1 bass in many bodies of water. In Maryland, it’s a one-man band, Capt. Scott Sewell. He’s been Conservation Director for MD Bass Nation since 2001. “I didn’t see what MD DNR was doing as having any effect. I wanted to do something in the right areas to make an impact.”
Sewell noted MD stocking efforts were not much more than food for perch, bluegill, crappie, and catfish, and not doing much to enhance the waters. He concluded larger fish needed to be stocked. Fish that would spawn to repopulate specific areas. Since the cost would be high, the biggest bang for their donation bucks would be 12 inch fish. These repopulators would be released in areas with the necessary conditions for survival and spawning. Cover, substrate, and proximity to moving water, were release areas. Sewell says larger fish are also big enough to consume and contain Northern Snakehead fry. But larger fish aren’t cheap, costing $21 each. Sewell proved to be a good fundraiser, presenting his case to businesses and fishing clubs. Marine Trades Association of Baltimore County is the top contributor, showing their dedication to helping the fishery.
Sewell credits MD Freshwater Fisheries Manager, Dr. Joe Love for supporting and providing guidance for this stocking program that has spent over $20,000 since 2021. Sewell is also thankful the fishing community has supported these stockings with ample volunteer help.
This fall 302 fish were personally introduced into the waterways. Sewell says his efforts have produced results. Fishing has improved and tournament winners have turned neglected fishing spots into perennial hot spots.
Potomac River Bassing in February
Fish are moving a bit shallower as days get longer and water warms to about 40-45 and higher. Target hard cover near drops as fish are close to winter holes.
Time for ½ ounce Silver Buddy lures: silver when sunny, gold when cloudy, on 10-pound test GAMMA EDGE on casting reels on spinnerbait rods with tip flex for casting and hook-setting backbone. Keep hooks sharp.
Downsize to GAMMA 6-pound test Edge fluorocarbon either as a main line or leader with 10-pound test GAMMA Torque braid on reels with smooth drags.
Drop shot and split shot with Mustad 1/0 Mega Bite hooks along with 3/16-ounce Water Gremlin BullShot weights. Time for 3” avocado stingray grubs on ¼ ounce ball head jigs made with Mustad Ultra Point hooks. Also break out hair jigs with matching chunks. Use slow horizontal presentations. Soak soft plastics and jigs in bait spray.
Flat-sided cranks on 10-pound test EDGE work along warmed surfaces. Shad patterns in clearer water or sunny days, craw otherwise. When water reaches 50, try suspending jerkbaits
About the Author: Capt. Steve Chaconas is a Potomac bass fishing guide & freelance writer. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. YouTube channel NationalBassGuide.