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If you're an angler looking for a fight out on a Wisconsin lake this summer, there's something important you should know: the bass have you outnumbered.
And thanks to a combination of catch and release practices as well as careful management, bass numbers are growing, said Jon Hansen, a fisheries biologist and bass team leader with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. For largemouth bass in particular, abundance is now at such levels that the DNR has removed minimum length limits on more than 300 lakes, while another 21 have no minimum length but a protected slot from 14 to 18 inches. These lakes have a daily bag limit of five bass.
In northern zone waters, the smallmouth bass season remains catch and release only until June 20 when the harvest season begins. On most other inland lakes, there is a combined daily bag limit of five largemouth and smallmouth bass greater than 14 inches.
Dave Boyarski, northern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor, said the smallmouth bass population in Door County is as good as it has ever been - continuing a trend seen in recent years that resulted in the area's recognition by Bassmaster Magazine as the top bass fishing destination in the U.S. in 2014. This year, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship is set for Sturgeon Bay Sept. 17-20.
Based on a recent fisheries team survey, some 20 percent of the smallmouth bass in Sturgeon Bay measured at least 17 inches and 15 percent measured at least 18 inches. Abundance also remains high - on a good day during the peak spring pre-spawn period, two anglers in boat may be able to pull in more than 50 fish a day. Boyarski said he also has gotten some reports of 100 fish days.
"We're getting a lot of 5-plus pound fish as well as some 7 and 8 pound fish and that's bearing in mind that the state record is just over 9 pounds," Boyarski said. "But where we're really fortunate is that a lot of good bass fishing can be done from shore, from a dock or by simple wading. It opens up all kinds of opportunities for families and people without boats."
It's also one reason why bass fishing remains an important part of the $2.3 billion economic impact Wisconsin gains from sport fishing each year.
"In addition to providing a valuable recreational opportunity for state residents, there are a lot of people who come here for the bass fishing," Hansen said. "These aren't necessarily tournament anglers, but they may hear about it that way."
To learn more, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for "largemouth bass" and "smallmouth bass." Information about daily bag limits, season length and other specific information can be found by searching "fishing regulations."