Zero fanfare surrounded the opening day of Minnesota’s bass harvest Saturday, but smallmouth and largemouth anglers are carrying on in larger numbers year after year.
“The number of bass tournaments has gone ballistic,” said Eric Altena, area fisheries supervisor in Little Falls for the Department of Natural Resources.
Habitat, too, is on the rise for bass in Minnesota, he said. More than 2,000 Minnesota lakes support largemouth bass populations. More than 500 support smallmouth bass, with many of those tied to river systems such as the Zumbro, Red, St. Croix, Rum, Kawishiwi, Crow and Sauk.
“Smallies are not as prevalent [as largemouth], but if you look at lakes that smallies are in … it’s growing some,” Altena said.
Dick Beardsley is a fishing guide in the Bemidji area who also sits on the DNR’s citizens’ bass advisory panel. If his fishing clients don’t have a preference for what species they want to target, he’ll take them out for bass.
“If something is pulling on the end of their line they are happy,” Beardsley said. “The bass population is as big as I’ve ever seen it in this part of Minnesota.”
All bass populations in the state are self-sustaining, with no stocking required unless there’s a freezeout or other large fish kill. Professional angler Al Grabowski, who sits on the bass advisory panel, said there are new fish handling rules this year for tournaments.
The standards, including mandatory use of double-lined weigh-in bags, will keep bass safer by mainstreaming the best practices, he said. At large tournaments, for instance, a maximum of 20 weigh-in bags will be in use at any one time. Large events also will be required to operate aerated or oxygenated water holding tanks for use during the weigh-in periods.
“It’s really going gangbusters with all the tournaments,” Grabowski said.
High school teams, club teams and youth groups represent the largest growth sector of bass tournament fishing, but venerable events such as the St. Jude Bass Classic in Wabasha are still going strong.
Bass Classic tournament director Matt Hall said high water on the Mississippi River delayed this year’s two-day tourney by a month. Now scheduled for June 6-8, the 21st annual competition will attract around 80 teams to U.S. Lock & Dam Pools 4 and 5.
Since the tournament’s inception, participants have raised more than $3.3 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, said Gretchen Simon of St. Jude’s Minneapolis area fundraising office. It’s one of only two fishing tournaments of its size in the country connected to St. Jude, she said.
This year’s winning team will take home $20,000, the same amount won last year by the team of Brian Harmon and Cory Hauk. They bagged 12 bass, six per day, weighing a total of 46.98 pounds. To compete, however, each team must pay an entry fee of $350 and raise money for St. Jude.