Big Largemouth Bass Lurk at Two Lakes, Thanks To Regulation

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Ball Lake in Steuben County and Robinson Lake in Whitley County offer anglers an increased shot at landing bigger largemouth bass, thanks to the results of a special regulation requiring the release of largemouth bass less than 18 inches long.

The regulation also restricts anglers to keeping only two largemouth bass that are more than 18 inches long.

According to the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), the number of 14-inch-and- larger largemouth bass increased at Ball Lake in Steuben County from an average of less than 1 per acre to over 3 per acre after the special regulation was imposed in 1996. The number of 18-inch and larger largemouth bass doubled from 1 per 10 acres to 1 per 5 acres.

At Robinson, numbers of 14-inch-and-larger largemouth bass rose from 8 per acre to nearly 14 per acre, although the number of 18-inch-and-larger largemouth bass dropped slightly below 2 per acre.

Biologists have periodically monitored largemouth bass populations in both lakes to study the long-term impacts of the special regulation. The most recent sampling took place over a three-week period in April and May.

Using electro-fishing boats that temporarily stun fish, DFW biologists captured 809 largemouth bass more than 8 inches long at Ball Lake and 848 such bass at Robinson Lake. Of these, 36 percent were 14 inches and larger at Ball Lake. The figure at Robinson Lake was 33 percent.

At Ball Lake, the number of 14-inch-and-larger largemouth bass captured per hour of electro-fishing increased five-fold from an average of 11 before the limit to 51 after the limit. The catch rate at Robinson Lake increased from 26 per hour before to 67 after the limit. The catch rate of 18-inch-and-larger largemouth bass more than tripled at Ball Lake and increased 11 percent at Robinson Lake.

Current bass fishing rules at most Indiana lakes allow anglers to keep up to five bass that are 14 inches and larger per day.

“Questions we now need to answer are whether special regulations would benefit other lakes and whether fishermen would support them,” said Jed Pearson, DFW biologist.

When the same regulation was imposed at three lakes on the Tri-County Fish and Wildlife Area near North Webster, the results were less dramatic even though anglers supported it.

The Tri-County lakes, however, had been under a 14-inch limit from 1973 until 1996, while Ball and Robinson had no size limit until 1990, and a 12-inch limit until 1996. Pearson said the reason is that bass grow faster in Ball and Robinson lakes.

Biologists say they need to better understand when and where special bass regulations can be used to determine which other lakes could benefit. 

“We are not going to impose an 18-inch size limit everywhere, but there could be more lakes where we would like to try it,” Pearson said