Time for some reflection on angling ethics


For the past five weeks, I wrote a series of articles on the top streams of central Pennsylvania. I thoroughly enjoyed that special project, but I’m also glad to return to composing my regular column this week.

And those five weeks were pretty interesting for me overall. My schedule was packed for most of the month of May with fishing commitments, so I wasn’t able to squeeze in any time for spring turkey hunting. The fishing was generally good, however, at least when it wasn’t raining.

I bought a new kayak for myself in mid-May — a 10-foot, sit-on-top model that will accommodate much more gear than my 91/2-foot sit-inside boat. I was dying to try it out on the Juniata River for smallmouths, but the river was much too high for my liking most of last month (and this month as well). I finally christened the new boat on Canoe Creek Lake for a few hours one afternoon. Then a four-day window opened on my calendar right after Memorial Day, and I was able to put together a short fishing vacation for my brother and I to Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

Presque Isle is one of my favorite places in Pennsylvania. It is an incredibly beautiful peninsula on Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie shoreline, and the crown jewel of our state park system. Presque Isle State Park hosts four times more visitors each year as Yellowstone National Park, yet most folks I talk to have never even heard of unique and amazing place.

For years, I used to spend eight to 10 days fishing Presque Isle during May, including Memorial Day weekend, but I hadn’t been able to get back up there during the spring for the past eight years. When the opportunity presented itself for return to that grand destination in late May, I couldn’t wait to make it happen.

When fishing Lake Erie or Presque Isle Bay, wind direction and velocity mean everything. Generally, winds from the north or east make things difficult to impossible, while winds from the south or west tend to be more favorable.

While the weather was mostly good during our trip, the winds were a consideration most days. Fortunately, my years of experience on Presque Isle Bay helped us find reasonable conditions for kayak fishing somewhere in the park. Rather than fight the wind, we picked spots where the wind would drift us along the areas we wanted to fish. That strategy worked well, and we caught lots of bass as well as rock bass and other panfish every day.

During all the hours I spent bobbing around Presque Isle Bay casting, catching fish and generally enjoying the comfort of my new boat, I had the chance to watch and reflect on an interesting phenomenon. Early on, I remarked to my brother that everyone who owns a bass boat in West Virginia must be fishing on Presque Isle right now. Mostly every truck and boat trailer parked at the boat ramps and most of the boats that passed by were indeed from West Virginia, along with some from Ohio and Virginia. Apparently, the folks in the Mountain State have found out about the great fishing on Presque Isle and make the trek up I-79 to experience it. Can blame them for that, especially after driving 31/2 hours to get there myself.

What I found interesting was almost every one of the folks in those expensive fishing rigs spent hours anchored in a spot attempting to pull a large smallmouth bass off its spawning bed. I just don’t get that. First, targeting bass on a spawning bed is technically illegal in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Fishing Summary: “It is unlawful for an angler to cast repeatedly into clearly visible bass spawning nest or redd in an effort to catch a bass.”

I say “technically” because this regulation is so nebulous and unenforceable that it makes no sense even to have it on the books. What does “repeatedly” mean? Three times? Thirty-three times? One hundred thirty-three times? And just how would a conservation officer prove an angler was casting into a “visible bass spawning nest?” I wonder if anyone has ever been successfully prosecuted for violating that useless regulation.

I honestly have no problem with fishing for bass during the spawning season. I have talked to several biologists regarding it, and all confirmed that catch-and-release angling during the spawn has no measurable effect on the overall bass fishery. In fact, in Lake Erie, anglers are permitted to keep a bass 20 inches or longer during the spawning period from mid-April to the opening day of bass season in mid-June. I personally do not target bass on their spawning beds because I find it interesting or ethical.

I get no satisfaction from jerking a big bass off a bed, especially if you must continually harass the poor creature just to get it to bite out of frustration. And most bass on beds are pretty worn out from spawning or guarding its nest to give much of a fight anyway. And I’ve caught trophy-sized largemouths and smallmouths from March to November, so exploiting big bass during those couple of weeks while they spawn just doesn’t appeal to me.