2011 Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #1 Kissimmee Chain of Lakes - Kissimmee, FL, Jan 20 - 22, 2011

Management matters

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Charlie Hartley

I thought I'd write one last blog about Florida fishing. In short, it's on fire. I've caught more big bass this year than I ever have in the past. There's a good reason for that — management.

Back in the old days — you'll recall my blog a couple of weeks ago about my teenage fishing trip down here — we all wanted a 10-pound bass. That was the Holy Grail for bass anglers. The only place we knew to get one was Florida. Texas and California weren't on our radar in those days.

A lot of us caught them that big, too. Unfortunately, however, most of us had them stuffed and hung on a wall someplace. I'm on Okeechobee, and in every small, out-of-the-way tackle shop I go into, I see a bunch of them nailed to a wall — yellow, broken and covered in dust. They're symbols of times long ago.

In fairness, we didn't know any better 30 years ago. We caught bass, mounted or ate them and went fishing again the next morning. We thought of fish as a never-ending resource, if we thought of them as a resource at all. That was just how things were back then.

Today it's different. We know that bass — especially big bass — can be fished out. The gene pool can be badly damaged, even destroyed. As a consequence we take better care of them now, and nowhere is that more evident than in Florida.

The really big ones are handled with care. We don't kill them. We revere them. We put them back into the water so they can pass those giant-making genes on to another generation. The results are telling. Thank Ray Scott for that.

Of course, it's not all about us anglers. The natural resources people are doing a good job, too. They're learning about growing big bass, and they're taking pains to stock and manage the lakes right. Don't ever sell their efforts short. They're doing a good job.

Not so many years ago there were whispers around that Florida fishing wasn't what it once was. The big, 10-pound-plus females were getting rare. Some anglers went so far as to call Florida the most overrated bass fishing state in our country.

Not so anymore. At the last Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, Gerald Swindle won that with 15 bass that weighed more than 80 pounds. That's better than a 5-pound average. At the same time, Marty Robinson averaged almost 3 pounds per fish and he finished 12th. The weigh-in was astounding. Angler after angler brought 7-, 8- and 9-pounders to the scales. I caught a 10-10 and couldn't claim big bass honors.

So, if your goal is a giant bass, one you can brag about for years, put Florida on your list of places to visit. It's back!

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