Trophy Fish No Accident


Last updated 1/5/2021 at 12:01pm

Okay….you only have 359 days left in 2021 to catch the largest bass of your life and you are burning one of them today. The game changed for bass fishermen in 1986 when limits were reduced to protect the resource and ever since that day, “catch and release” has become the accepted norm. More importatntly….it has worked even better than anticipated! While it was initially painful for anglers that had built their reputations on consistently returning to the dock with limits, goals were suddenly changed, but most of those elite anglers proved to still

be elite anglers. While bass were no longer the main course at the next

fish fry, they quickly attained star status for tournament fishermen. The key to making this fishing revolution work so well was “buy-in” on the part of the fishermen. No one was really bent out of shape so long as everyone had to play by the same rules. In truth, reduced limits did not preclude the next fish fry. They only minimized the number of freezer burned filets that were eventually thrown away. The coveted “plus” was that within a year or two, folks were more often getting swings at bigger bass than they had ever caught on their favorite fishing holes. Power plant lakes started giving up thick shouldered double-digit bass that matched their cousins in Georgia and Florida and Florida strain stockings quickly took hold on lakes like

Fork, Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn. For thirteen years prior to these changes, I had guided and tournament fished exclusively on Toledo Bend. In all of that time, I never caught an

eight pound bass or met anyone that had. We fished our way through tons

of bass, but most of them never lived to make the same mistake twice! Long lines of anglers that once waited in the pre-dawn chill at a lake like Monticello are all but forgotten as the opportunity to catch a double digit bass now exists all across the state. Orange County anglers

are less than an hour and a half drive from two of the top ranked big bass sanctuaries in the states. The prime time of the year for catching your life-time best is upon us as egg-laden sows are already making their move to secure staging areas to begin the spawn. This is not a numbers game unless you are looking at the scales. When you are seeing 65 degree days in January you had better get your gear in order. Northers can slow the spawn temporarily, but as a rule those staging fish do not retreat to deeper water. They simply bury up in

the nearest cover and wait it out. I have always believed that the spawn is irreversible once we start seeing longer days. The extra hour or so of sunlight may help warm the water, but there is something more magical about that phenomenon than increased surface temperatures.

While I truly hope that you will catch and release the largest bass of your life this year, I mention all of this because trout fishermen now find themselves coping with the same change in order to bolster the resource. The one difference thus far has been mandating that everyone

play by the same rules. More restrictive limits proved to be effective very quickly on the lower

coast, but there was still little or no “buy-in” at all as you moved up the coast. The single biggest complaint and one that certifies the lack of respect given the speckled trout was, “It’s not worth going fishing if you can only keep five trout.” I don’t think this mind set will completely change until more trout fishermen are getting more swings at trophy trout. Because smaller trout

tend to school and feed in such prolific numbers, the average angler is still more concerned with an easy limit than looking to battle a trophy trout. Capt. Chuck was recently recounting past trips in his column that included duping seven and eight pound trout on a regular basis. Make no mistake about it, Chuck and his clients spent countless hours in search

of those big trout, but they were there to be caught and the exciting

payoff was unmatched. Those trout are now missing through no fault of the anglers, but those

same anglers are the ones that can make it all happen again. As much as I

hope you catch the bass of your dreams this year, I hope you will do

your part in making Sabine Lake a trophy lake again!


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