Why are we so angry when we see someone keep a trophy bass?
Before we get into the season and everyone starts catching (and keeping) bass, I wanted to start a healthy discuss on why us bass addicts get so irate when we see a big bass being caught and kept. For this discussion I will define a trophy bass as one over 20” in length and weighing more than 6lbs.
So why is it every time we see someone report or post a mention or picture of a big bass they have kept, a huge dispute over what is ethical ensues? Usually many heated posts are made and they typically become very personal. Showing the anglers passion for the sport but also creating conflict in an unhealthy manner. So how do we move beyond flaming the angler who chooses to keep a large bass (legally)? I say we educate them on why we are so passionate and concerned with that big fish being taken.
First off let me say that I have never judged anyone who has kept a large bass for personal reasons, to eat or have a mount made, and I won’t as long as that angler is obeying the laws and regulations set forth by the WDFW:
No min. size. Only BASS less than 12" may be retained, except 1 over 17" may be retained. Daily limit
5. Bass may be caught, retained, and released alive from a livewell until a daily limit is in possession.
No min. size. Only 1 BASS over 14" may be retained. Daily limit 10. Bass may be caught, retained,
and released alive from a livewell until a daily limit is in possession.
As with most fish, the growth rate of largemouth bass is highly variable and depends on food supply and environmental conditions. Largemouth can grow to more than 2 pounds their first year under ideal conditions, but in nature about 0.5 pounds is normal. Females are normally larger than males and the maximum size of the Northern largemouth is about 10 pounds with males seldom exceeding 5 pounds.
About 5 pounds of live forage are required for annual maintenance, and 10 pounds of forage are required to add 1 pound of gain to largemouth bass. With such a slow growth season and rate for Northern Strain Largemouth bass in the Northwest, you can see that it takes many years for a bass to grow to trophy size. In some cases Northern Strain bass have been reported to be over 15 years old. So you can assume that a 6+lb bass is anywhere between 6-16 years old.
A bass over the state regulation length of 17” may seem nice as a large table fair but what most people don’t realize is that a fish of this size or greater is old and the meat is not very good. Two bass of a smaller size (say less than 12”) and youthful will have more flavor and fair than one old one. With the potential of 5 bass under 12” that may be retained, this would make for a far better meal.
On a side note, taking bass in the slot limit out of a lake, helps to ensure continued growth and balance to that particular eco system. Allowing other bass to grow and have ample forage. Example: if 5 bass fill a tank and have x amount of forage food to eat, they will only be able to consume 1/5 of the forage each. If you take the same tank and only have 3 bass with the same x amount of forage you now have 1/3 consumption of forage per bass. Every lake in the state struggles with this healthy balance and this is why a slot limit was created. Not to say that the slot limit is the answer but it does help lakes not to become over populated, leading to a stunted bass population. Keep in mind too, with all this information, lakes in the Northwest are not stocked with largemouth bass.
During spawn individual females usually contain 2,000 to 7,000 eggs per pound of body weight, with an average of about 4,000 eggs. The female usually lays a few hundred adhesive eggs at a time. Usually at spawning the weight of eggs in females will be 10 percent or more of her body weight. Larger fish tend to have larger eggs and therefore larger fry but fewer eggs per pound of body weight.
When trophy bass spawn not only are they laying less eggs, but those eggs are carrying very strong genes. The chances that those eggs of a trophy largemouth grow to be another trophy are very high. Thus, quantity gives way to quality. This is one of the biggest factors avid bass anglers become indignant when someone has kept a big bass. That bass has the potential to bring life to more quality fish and to do so for many years. And just about every trophy bass is going to be a female.
I want everyone to see both sides of the coin here. It is completely legal to keep one 17” or larger bass. At the same time realize the passion us bass anglers feel toward these trophy largemouth and the damage it can cause toward that particular lake by taking them out. By putting that big fish back, not only are you ensuring future quality spawned fish, but the chance someone else will have the joy of catching it again are 100% greater. I hope this helps any young or old anglers to understand why we bass fisherman feel so strongly about our large quarry.
SRAC Publication No. 200
WDFW Rules and Regulations