Now that the a state survey is out on the Atchafalaya Spillway, south Louisiana outdoorsmen can began the next great debate.
OK, so let’s call it what it really is - an argument - a persistent conversation for the past three years about the 14-inch size limit on Atchafalaya Spillway bass.
In short, the information contained in the “2010 Atchafalaya, Henderson and Verret Black Bass Survey” can be boiled down to a statement in the first pages of the 144-page report.
“For bass size limits, this report shows that a majority of responses by all respondents and a plurality of responses by Atchafalaya Basin anglers did not indicate a desire to change the 14-inch minimum size limit,” the report stated.
The breakdown? Of the 240 folks (among the 2,000 surveyed) who considered themselves “Atchafalaya Basin Anglers,” 17.4 percent had no opinion about the current size limit, 30.8 percent wanted the current limit, 9.5 percent wanted no size limit, 24.1 percent wanted to decrease the size limit, 1.2 percent wanted an increase, 13.4 percent wanted a slot.
Among the “decrease size limit” group, the most mentioned size limit was to allow keeping 12-inch bass.
The 14-inch limit in the Spillway and nearby waters of Henderson Lake and the Lake Verret-Belle River system was approved in 1993, the year after Hurricane Andrew killed an estimated 5 million bass among the 175 million fish state fisheries biologists figured were left dead in Andrew’s wake.
The story of the 14-inch-limit goes deeper than Andrew’s devastating march through the country’s largest overflow swamp.
Along about 1988, former Advocate outdoors editor Mike Cook and I began receiving reports about decreased bass catches from the Spillway. By 1989, the clamor from fishermen was loud enough to trigger a Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ study.
What happened next was coincidental: LDWF fisheries biologists were ready with their Spillway report right at the time Andrew was wreaking havoc throughout the swamp and adjacent Verret-Belle River waters.
Briefly, the biologists’ report showed studies indicated a 12-inch-long bass in the area “might have” spawned once, but that a 14-inch-long bass had spawned at least twice.
In 1993, with virtually no fish in the Spillway, and fishermen begging for more bass, it was easy to figure that more spawning fish meant more bass.
Today, many of those same fishermen say they are frustrated that they have trouble catching a 14-inch fish to take home for the frying pan.
Let the debate, er, argument, begin.
The full report is on the LDWF’s website: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/
It’s a “great” read.