Exploitation and Length Limit Evaluation of Largemouth Bass in Three Georgia Small Impoundments

Recent studies on largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) fisheries indicate fishing mortality has declined significantly due to voluntary catch-and-release practices by anglers. We evaluated the relative abundance, growth, mortality, and exploitation of largemouth bass in three Georgia small impoundments. To assess exploitation, 100 largemouth bass were tagged during spring 2010 in Lake Lindsay Grace and Hugh M. Gillis Public Fishing Area and during spring 2011 in Dodge County Public Fishing Area. Monetary rewards for tag returns were either US$5 or $105 per fish, and these values were printed on the tags. Tag returns for the high-reward tags ranged from 30% to 47% across impoundments, whereas returns of the low-reward tags ranged from 13% to 26%. Annual exploitation (u) based on the high-reward tags ranged from 0.13 - 0.30 and total annual mortality (A) estimated from catch-curve analysis ranged from 0.38 to 0.55 across impoundments. Assuming mortalities were additive, annual natural mortality (v) estimates ranged from 0.08 - 0.42. Simulation modeling indicated that a protective slot limit could increase the number of trophy bass (i.e., 600 mm total length [TL]) available in all three impoundments, due to the estimated level of angler harvest. Despite high rates of voluntary catch-and-release documented across much of North America's black bass fisheries over recent decades, greater harvest rates were demonstrated in 2 of 3 Georgia small impoundments examined. To aid in less confusion for anglers and for ease of convenience for law enforcement, the same slot limit of 381 - 559 mm TL was recommended for all three impoundments due to the increase in trophy-size bass predicted with this protective slot limit.

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