Based on fat bass and a dramatic improvement in the fishing, Roosevelt Lake’s millions of largemouth and smallmouth bass no longer need the protection of a strict “slot limit,” Arizona Game and Fish Fisheries Chief Kurt Young has concluded.
Young will on Aug. 7 recommend the Arizona Game and Fish Commission remove the restrictions that require anglers to throw back any 13- to 16-inch bass they catch.
Biologists continue to gather suggestions from the public and are racing to finalize their data before the meeting, but Young told the Roundup the preliminary data shows that the rapidly rising bass population in Roosevelt Lake no longer needs slot limit protections.
Young said that when the commission imposed the slot limit, it took the average angler more than eight hours to catch a bass and fishermen kept more than half of the fish they caught.
However, surveys of fishermen in recent months show that it now takes the average fisherman just one hour to catch a bass and
anglers keep only 7 percent of the fish they catch.
In the past year, fishermen have spent 500,000 hours on the lake and caught 250,000 bass, but took only 17,000 of those bass home.
“The slot limit is having no effect on the population now,” said Young.
If the Game and Fish Commission agrees, organizers of a nationally televised September bass tournament at Roosevelt can breathe a sigh of relief.
Roosevelt’s reputation as one of the leading bass fisheries in the country has risen in recent years, as the lake has filled to new levels and avidly watched bass tournaments have drawn attention.
A 2001 survey suggested that bass fishermen at Roosevelt Lake pump $63 million annually into the regional economy. Young said the figure should be much higher now, with lake levels high and fishing dramatically improved.
Payson hosted a national bass tournament at Roosevelt last year, but the slot limit resulted in lower daily weights for some fishermen, since tournament fishermen keep the five biggest fish they catch each day for the weigh in.
This year’s tourney should draw at least 300 anglers, big crowds and a national television audience. The FLW Tournament will feed into the multi-million-dollar professional bass tournament and represents Roosevelt’s ascent into the major leagues of professional fishing. Last year’s smaller-scale tournament served as Roosevelt’s audition for the big-money circuit. A survey of participants suggested the tournament generated some $600,000 in business for Rim Country.
The Payson Town Council has appealed to the Game and Fish Commission to remove the slot limit, to be sure that the region basks in the national bass spotlight in September.
Young had planned to make his recommendation on the Roosevelt slot limit in October along with recommendations for regulations statewide, but decided to make a quicker, separate recommendation for Roosevelt because of the impending bass tournament.
“Our data shows that the slot limit is not now having any effect on the (bass) population,” said Young. “The population is doing well: It’s healthy. We have lots of food and lots of fat bass.”
He predicted that sometime in the next 12 months, someone will catch a largemouth bass in Roosevelt Lake that will beat the current record of 16 pounds, 7 ounces, for a fish caught in Canyon Lake.
The lake also harbors channel and largemouth catfish, which can easily weigh in excess of 50 pounds, enormous buffalo fish plus large numbers of vegetation-eating carp and mostly insect-eating bluegill.