PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Early this year when the schedules for major fishing organizations were released, residents around Lake Champlain expressed concern about the impact of bass tournaments on their lake. Vermont and New York fisheries officials contacted Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. conservation director, for assistance in providing information to local anglers.
More specifically, residents were asking about fish displacement during the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate, July 31 to Aug. 2. The concern of many local anglers was the impact of moving fish from the southern parts of the lake, 70 miles north to Plattsburgh, N.Y., where most major tournaments (including B.A.S.S. events) hold their weigh-ins and fish release.
Gilliland had conducted research on this subject when he was a biologist with the Oklahoma Wildlife Department. “We know the fish don’t swim 70 miles to go back home,” Gilliland acknowledged.
“But more to the point here, the Lake Champlain Research Institute at SUNY Plattsburgh recently completed a study and released a report, ‘Post Tournament Release Movements of Black Bass in Lake Champlain.’ This study confirmed that released bass are unlikely to return long distances to capture sites after release and tend to remain within 2 to 5 miles of the release site for several months.
“With repeated releases of fish in an area, the density of fish gets to a point where the fish naturally start to spread out, searching for a place with suitable habitat and foraging opportunities (food) that they can call home,” added Gilliland.
Surveys of Champlain tournament anglers indicated that 60 percent of largemouth bass weighed in were caught in mid- and northern portions of the lake. But that means 40 percent were caught south. So what does that mean for fishermen who consider South Lake their home waters and who don’t want “their” bass moved north?
“Any void created by removing bass from a particular area is filled very quickly,” said Gilliland. “In highly productive waters like Champlain, nature replenishes those stocks. Smaller fish grow up to replace the ones that are harvested or have been removed.”
To that point, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department began a monitoring program for black bass in 2010 and provided Bassmaster.com with electrofishing data showing that the fishery is quite strong. Biologist Shawn Good’s surveys compared results from 1992 with data collected from 2010 through 2012. Although no data was collected in 2013 because of exceptionally low lake levels and 2014 data had not been analyzed at this writing, Good noted that this is a long-term program and that reports on the population trends will continually be updated and provided to the public.
See more data and a Q&A on the next page.