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“Put ’em Back!”

I blog about this topic every winter.  Going to again.  Tired of hearing it from me?  Listen to what some of the best ice-anglers have to say.  Oh, I am frequently told all the good biologist work in some other state; there is one in this video, listen to him!

Now, this is my blog, let me offer some comments. . . .

First of all, “Right on!, What they said!”  My career as a fisheries biologist has spanned a few years now.  I have seen far more panfish populations suffering from over-fishing than any of the larger predator fish, including walleyes.  Understand when I say they are suffering from over-fishing I am not talking about populations that are declining or disappearing.  I AM talking about populations that are not given a chance to reach their growth potential.

We have learned that “stunted” panfish are more likely to result NOT from lack of harvest.  Instead, quite the opposite–harvesting large panfish from a population can lead to stunting.  This is especially the case with bluegills because of their unique spawning behavior (Bed Time for ‘Gill), but can also be the case for other panfish like yellow perch and crappies.

Unfortunately, especially when it comes to ice fishing, I continue to see piles of big panfish on the ice and on the cleaning table.  I continue to hear reports of folks going back and taking limits day after day until the fish are gone (that alone should be a clue–wanna know why the “hot” bite cooled?).  Now, panfish are exactly the species that can withstand some harvest, and Lord knows they taste darned good, especially when caught through the ice.  We should be savoring some meals of fried fish.

But, filling the freezer is killing our fisheries, is eliminating big panfish.  Instead of harvesting the big ones, take the more abundant small and medium-size fish.  Take what you can use in a meal of fresh fish.


We have made a conscience decision in Nebraska to lower our panfish bag limits.  Made that decision several years ago.  On most waters the daily bag limit went from 30 to 15, and I heard complaining about that.  Let me say this about bag limits:  To actually reduce harvest, bag limits have to be very restrictive, probably a lot less than 15 per day!

We have also experimented with minimum length limits for crappies in Nebraska.  Currently, we have some creative special regulations for yellow perch and bluegills.  One of the anglers on the video talked of individualized regulations for different waterbodies and I completely agree!  I also completely agree with the other angler who asked if it was appropriate to manage for big panfish on waters capable of producing that kind of fishing.  YES!

Fortunately, in Nebraska we have waters that are very much capable of producing trophy panfish.  In fact, one thing that is different from the discussion in the video is the growth rate of our panfish.  In general, our growth rates are much faster than those “up nort”.  We have some tremendously productive waters capable of producing some great panfishing.

I will always come down on the side of the resource and quality fishing.  My fear is that with our modern technology more and more harvest pressure is being placed on our resources.  I have seen the reports and quotes on the inter-webs:  “Two hours to find them with livescope.  Fifteen minutes to fill a limit.”  “. . . finally got on some public ‘gills today, without the camera we probably would have only caught a handful.”  By the way, both those quotes included photos of piles of panfish.

I think the technology is great.  It is going to teach us even more about the fish we love to catch.  But, the technology is eliminating places to hide, refuges.  I hope those who can afford the live-scopes, panoptix, mega-360, and all the other “latest and greatest” understand the responsibility that comes with those products and the knowledge they provide.  And, remember with the interwebs and cell phones, there ain’t no secrets anymore.

Are we going to settle for fisheries full of small panfish?  Just because some anglers think of nothing more than harvesting limits of panfish?  Harvest that starts with the biggest ones?  Or, can we have some fisheries that offer more?

Retired Canadian fisheries biologist Gord Pyzer put it this way:

As we fisheries managers have often said, it’s actually quite easy to produce quality walleye fisheries, or bass, muskie, and other fisheries for that matter.  The only two questions ever are how badly do anglers really want them -and- are they prepared to pay the price?

And that is why I will keep blogging about it.  Angler attitudes have changed a lot, and they continue to change.

Yeah, you’re seeing right! That is this big perch swimming back down the hole!


About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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