West Virginia Bass Federation - FISHTAILS

Education Effort

By Chris Lawerence

The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society has been a pioneer in the preservation and enhancement of bass fishing and fisheries throughout time and throughout the world. This is why the Division of Natural Resources and the West Virginia Bass Federation along with National B.A.S.S. officials are teaming to educate West Virginians about the importance of livewell and weigh-in management of fish.

"We brought B.A.S.S. into this discussion because they were the experts." Says DNR Warmwater Fisheries Chief Bert Pierce. "We haven't seen a lot of problems with B.A.S.S. handled events."

However, there's a public perception, although untrue, that fish are dying following their release because of mishandling.

"I think the number of fish that died at the Bass Festival last year prompted the concern." Says Pierce. "However, so many fish were caught in that tournament the percentage of dead fish was about normal for any tournament in West Virginia."

Pierce says there are two things they want to produce from the myriad of discussions now being held around the state. They want to create two sets of guidelines on proper handling of bass that are intended for release.

"We want to get the most up to date information available to bass anglers about livewell management. We also want to get guidelines in print for tournament directors who don't have the expertise in how to properly weigh and care for fish."

While the West Virginia Bass Federation is normally considered the authority on bass fishing in the state, there are many other open events and tournament trails routinely releasing bass. There are no set laws on catch and release and that isn't the intent of the guidelines.

"This is simply an effort to educate everyone involved in tournaments." Says Pierce. "The B.A.S.S. guys know what they are doing. You guys have the biggest holding tanks and the best systems for preserving those fish after they are weighed. However we have noticed some mishandling at other tournaments."

The mortality from the West Virginia Bass Federation sanctioned events in 2000 was 2.51%. This means 97.49% of all bass caught are released alive. Critics are quick to accuse federation members of having a negative impact on bass populations upon seeing any fish dead. However, there are certain facts that are often overlooked. The clearest fact is all Federation members could legally harvest six-bass and takes them home.

"We recognize that." Says Pierce; "It's a public perception thing. Nobody wants to see dead fish."
That includes tournament fishermen who consider bass their passion. B.A.S.S. has been the leader in organizing efforts to not only protect bass populations but enhanced them in the last 30-years. Accusations that tournament fishing hurt bass populations in the state are flat wrong.

"There is no evidence that tournaments are negatively impacting the sport fishery." Says Pierce. "The catch and release ethic has increased dramatically and the more it's practiced, the more anglers need to be aware of the best ways to protect those fish both in their livewells and during weigh-ins."

WVBF President John Burdette says too often critics cite studies that are incompatible with West Virginia.

"They use study that came from Oklahoma which shows some high post mortality." Says Burdette. "But waters in places like Oklahoma and Florida get far hotter than we have during the summer months here. Penn State is starting a study that might be a little more compatible with West Virginia and there's some talk of actually doing a study in West Virginia."

For now, bass anglers in West Virginia can look forward to getting new information from the DNR both with tournament permits and entry into bass tournaments.

"This information will be the best known and most up-to-date findings on the best way to keep fish." Says Burdette

"We only want this to be an educating process." Notes Pierce, "We just want to get the word out there about how anglers should manage their livewells and tournament directors should manage fish during a weigh-in."