Monday, December 1, 2014

A Thought About Panfish Harvest

As I sit here waiting for my potatoes to cook so I can enjoy them with yesterday's catch of fresh crappie and bluegill, I'm thinking about the harvest of panfish. Above is a photo of a limit I took home last year. One of the few limits. And it was taken from a lake that has an incredible population of crappie in that size range. But is it responsible?

Many anglers seem to judge their success by whether or not they 'took home a limit'. I think this needs to change. Panfish are susceptible to over harvest, just like any other fish. But they are truly delicious. So what do I think we should do?

First off, I think the mentality of a what's a keeper needs to change in the panfish world. Selective harvest has been preached for a long time when it comes to larger game fish, and it's now being enforced through ideas like slot limits in many places. However, for many panfish fishermen I see, the biggest fish are automatically harvested. We need to be letting the big fish go. They carry the best genetics and spawn the most successfully. If you want to eat some fish, keep the average sized fish.

Now that we are on to keeping fish, just how many do we need? Many lakes in my neck of the woods are quite small and cannot sustain high levels of harvest. As a cook and former chef who has served my fair share of fish fry, I can tell you the average serving of perch or panfish is 2 to 3 fish per person, plus sides, in the restaurant world. That means a 25 fish limit can feed 12 people. Very few need to feed that many, so keep a few less. Trust me, fish taste far better fresh anyways. If you want another meal, it's a great reason to go fishing, and maybe hit another lake.

Now, I like to have a few filets in the freezer for the warm months too. That's why I take a couple trips to large, productive water bodies every year. Large lakes and river systems can sustain far more harvest than small ones. So if you do want a couple extra fish, maybe try a large system where taking a limit isn't as detrimental. But still, keep in mind responsibility.

If we, as panfish anglers take these steps, I truly think we will see larger fish and better fishing in a lot of areas.


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