Prior to creating a 14-inch size limit on black bass at Lake Lanier, both amateur and professional fishermen had voiced concerns about the declining fishing quality for largemouth and spotted bass. Though this decline was often blamed on the striped bass population, it is my expert opinion that the decrease was due directly to over-harvesting, especially by night tournament anglers during the warmer periods of the year. In fact, those of us who fish Lanier daily had been noticing numerous dead bass around boat ramps where these night “pot” tournaments were being held. Most sightings usually occurred about two days after one of these amateurish events that allowed 12 and 13 inch bass to be bounced around in livewells with nearly 90 degree water temperatures for up to 4 hours. These poor fish were then tossed into a plastic bag and held until they could be weighed. Finally, their stressed-out, injured bodies were dumped back into the lake in such poor condition that they died within days.
In an effort to address this problem, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) conducted a fish tagging study on Lanier during 1997. Results of that study showed that a 14 inch size limit might improve the bass fishing over a period of time, and their foresight has already been paying big dividends to bass fishermen for a couple of years. During the next month, those of us who understand how to catch spawning spotted bass will be landing between 20 and 50 per day, and nearly 75% of those will exceed the 14-inch limit. Therefore, a 5 bass tournament limit of spotted bass this year could weigh more than 20 pounds.
As was the mistaken belief that stripers caused the decline because they were eating all of the bass, many anglers are now saying that the bass recovery is due to the growing population of blueback herring in Lake Lanier. This too is a poor assumption! No Lake Lanier records have been broken since the bluebacks were introduced by some idiot with his own self-stocking program. Instead of making erroneous postulations, these anglers should give the credit where it is truly deserved…to the farsighted planning of the excellent DNR biologists who oversee the fish populations at Lake Lanier!
Despite the much improved catches, the predicted improvement in bass catch rates should continue to improve. It takes time for a fish population to respond to size limits, and the response also depends on the natural death rate, which is controlled by Mother Nature and not by anglers or biologists. Nevertheless, indications are that Lake Lanier’s black bass population has recovered nicely!