The unwritten rule among serious bass and tournament anglers has always been catch and release. Almost all tournaments are now catch and release and most impose penalties for dead fish. Many anglers even feel guilty when they keep a few fish or have them die before being released. Many misconceptions are used to support this rule. However, as long as catch limits are adhered to, keeping a few fish is more beneficial than harmful to bass fisheries.
A popular argument for catch and release is that if anglers start keeping fish, the bass population will decline to a point that today's younger generation will not have this resource to enjoy in the future. It is believed that the reproduction rate as well as stocking efforts by numerous agencies would not be able to maintain the bass population. Furthermore, releasing the fish allows another angler a catch of his or her own. In addition, many believe that removing bass of legal length, as well as the larger fish, harms their spawning cycle. By removing these fish, it is thought that only the younger, less mature fish are left to spawn each year.
Contrary to what some believe, keeping fish can actually benefit the fisheries. Every body of water has a limited amount of nutrients, baitfish, etc. to support all marine life such as bass as well as all other fish species living in that lake. Local wildlife agencies conduct studies that are used to determine length and creel limits that will help to keep the proper balance of fish to forage.
If some fish are not removed by anglers, this balance is thrown off, and in time, the result is stunted growth and a large decline in the number of healthy adult bass.
According to biologists, large bass are well past their prime spawning age. An eight to ten pound bass is approximately ten years old and has spread its genes for all its adult life. The smaller adult bass, on the other hand, are prime specimens for spawning. Therefore, keeping some of the larger fish has no negative impact on the bass population.
Largemouth bass have approximately a 99% mortality rate. From before the eggs even hatch, all the way through their life, the bass face many predators including turtles, alligators, snakes, birds, and larger fish. Of the many predators the bass face on a daily basis, anglers account for only 1% of the 99% mortality rate. Besides the predators the bass faces, many other factors also fit into that percentage. Just a few of these include dieing of natural causes, disease, and fish kills due to water pollutants or lack of oxygen.
In summary, extensive studies have proven that on most lakes, selective harvesting of bass is necessary for a successful fishery. The exceptions to this include unhealthy or small bodies of water with insufficient forage to sustain a large bass population. Regardless of the body of water, whether it is healthy or not, anglers have a minimum impact on the bass population: positive or negative.