Smallmouth Bass Population Characteristics and Minimum Length Limit Evaluation in Two Tennessee Rivers

Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) are a popular sportfish in many Tennessee rivers. In the southernmost extent of the species native range, including Tennessee, smallmouth bass populations tend to display relatively fast growth rates and can benefit from harvest restrictions. Consistent with national trends, recreational access and use of Tennessee rivers has increased in recent years (e.g., paddlesports and angling), but quantitative assessments of this increased use on smallmouth bass fisheries are lacking. Popular smallmouth bass fisheries exist in the Elk River and its major tributary, Richland Creek, and angler access has increased in recent years. The goals of this study were to characterize population structure of smallmouth bass and assess the need for minimum-length limits (MLL) in response to increased fishing pressure in the two Tennessee streams. Both streams were sampled using boat-mounted electrofishing gear in May and June in 2018. Smallmouth bass proportional stock density was similar between systems; however, mean length and relative stock density preferred were higher in Richland Creek. Estimates of annual mortality were similar between systems (0.45?0.46). However, the von Bertalanffy asymptotic length differed between rivers. Smallmouth bass entered the fishery (254 mm TL) at 2.6 years in Richland Creek and 2.9 years in Elk River. In both systems, conditional fishing mortality rates were relatively low based on formulas (0.12?0.24), and thus, new regulations were not necessary to prevent overfishing but may improve size structure at low estimates of natural mortality. This study provides a baseline assessment upon which future research and monitoring should be conducted. Furthermore, this study underlines the need to monitor growth overfishing and evaluate fishing mortality to keep pace with the increasing levels of fishing pressure expected for rivers in Tennessee and throughout the southeastern United States.

Publication date
Starting page
Ending page