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Minimum Length Limit Changes for Largemouth Bass a

Date Published: November 19, 2001

Minimum Length Limit Changes for Largemouth Bass at Lake Eufaula

Ken C. Weathers
District VI Fisheries Biologist
Enterprise, Alabama

Effective November 1, 2000, Alabama and Georgia conservation agencies lowered the minimum length limit for largemouth bass in Lake Eufaula from 16-inches to 14-inches. This regulation change reflects the latest action taken by fisheries biologists to maintain a healthy, stable largemouth bass population.

Since the construction of Walter F. George Dam in 1962, Lake Eufaula has been recognized as one of the country’s premier reservoirs for largemouth bass fishing. During the 1960s and 1970s, Lake Eufaula gained a national reputation for producing long stringers of big bass. However, as the fertility of the reservoir decreased and the fishing pressure increased, bass anglers started noticing that some years they could catch many adult bass, but during other years good bass were tougher to find. During the 1980s and early 1990s, fisheries biologists also noticed that the adult bass population was becoming cyclic, with several years of abundant bass numbers usually followed by one or two years of low bass numbers. At that time voluntary catch and release was growing in popularity, but angling mortality was still high with anglers harvesting 25 to 30 percent of the bass population every year.

To protect young bass and alleviate these periods of poor bass fishing success, Alabama and Georgia fisheries biologists agreed to initiate a 16-inch minimum length limit for largemouth bass on July 1, 1992. Initially this regulation proved very successful, with adult bass abundance reaching record high levels in the spring of 1997. However, these high numbers resulted in slower average growth and thinner bodies of adult bass when compared with the years before the length limit.

Problems were observed following the bass spawn in 1997. Dead bass were observed throughout the lake during the late spring and summer, with most of these fish weighing three pounds or more. While large concentrations of dead fish were never observed at one time, the chronic loss of large adult bass resulted in very low numbers of older bass in 1998. The presence of a recently discovered virus, known as the largemouth bass virus, was confirmed in Lake Eufaula in 1998. This virus typically infects older bass, and is believed to be responsible for the 1997 die-off. The largemouth bass virus has caused several fish kills through out the southeastern United States in recent years. However, this virus has never been found to infect humans. The high numbers and relatively poor body conditions of the adult bass population in 1997 would have caused these fish to be more susceptible to diseases caused by any bacterial or viral infections.

Angler creel surveys indicated the practice of voluntary catch and release for legal-sized bass had steadily increased on Lake Eufaula from 12.5 percent in 1984 to 39.3 percent in 1987 to 65 percent in 1991. By 1999, angler surveys and bass tagging studies conducted by Georgia’s fisheries personnel found that anglers released 92 percent of all bass over 16 inches in length.

All these factors led to the desire by both Alabama and Georgia conservation agencies to lower the minimum length limit from 16 inches to 14 inches. Under the new minimum length limit, bass will be protected until they are approximately three years old. The success of the new minimum length limit in maintaining stable, relatively abundant largemouth bass populations will still depend on natural and fishing mortality rates.

The above article was taken from the scientific article:
Weather, K. C., M. J. Newman, D. Partridge, and R. Wright. 2000. Fish population and angler responses to a 406-mm minimum length limit for largemouth bass on Lake Eufaula, Alabama-Georgia.  Proc. Annu. Conf. SEAFWA. 28-38.

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