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Is Fishing Pressure Fake News? Part 1: The Data

Author’s Note: One of the topics I often discuss with my fishing clients is the effects of fishing pressure. I started the research for this article, which combines my math skills with my passion for fishing, several months ago, knowing it would require a fair amount of number crunching to compile and graph the analysis. Now, in April 2020, we are experiencing a pandemic, and are bombarded daily with data, charts, and graphs. Hopefully, the ones below will be more enjoyable for you to contemplate.

I have always been curious about how fishing pressure affects a lake. What do we actually mean when we say “fishing pressure”? Are we talking long term or short term? Is fishing pressure a real thing, or is it all in our heads when we see five boats sitting on our spot? You often hear about it in tournament circles and read about it in fishing magazines, and we all have our own anecdotal cases we use to justify a tough day, I certainly do. But, as people are asking on a lot of subjects today, “what do the numbers say?”, and what do they look like on a larger scale over time?

One of the hats I wear is that of a math teacher and tutor, as well as one that labels me as an engineer. So I won’t deny that I love numbers. This article, the first of two parts, will present graphs showing national tournament results to look at the big picture. I have selected four lakes of various types from around the country, and chosen ones where tournaments happen at each body of water’s “prime time”.

When presenting data, it is always necessary to make some statements about the data for

context: First, I do not present this data as being conclusive to any end. It is simply data. I have tried to think about it logically and assemble it carefully. Nevertheless, there are holes and certainly room for further study. It is important to understand that while national tournament data is presented, hundreds of other anglers are on these major bodies of water at any time, so l stress this throughout the article. The data presented here should be viewed with this in mind.

· Outside factors like Asian Carp in Kentucky Lake, extended drought in places like California, flooding on the Mississippi River, or tropical storms in Florida can have significant effects on fisheries- sometimes for prolonged periods of time. Time of year is always a factor in fishing pressure so at least for each lake I chose its “prime time” even though many are fished throughout the year.

So here are my observations:

The St. John’s River, FL: Why this body of water was selected:

I chose this body of water for several reasons. First, the Bassmaster Elite Series has been there five times since 2011 offering a nice data set with comparable numbers. Second, it’s a nationally ranked big bass fishery that receives significant pressure. Each time Elite events highlight this fishery, scores of anglers from around the country book trips to hit that water. Locally, there are tournaments nearly every weekend, often very large with skilled anglers. Third, I wanted to analyze a body of water from Florida since Florida waters seem to present a unique set of conditions, and the St. John’s River is a prime example. The last reason, and possibly the most important one, is that each of these tournaments were held in the spring (around the spawn), and were largely dominated by sight fishing, or blind bed fishing. So what will the data tell us about how sight fishing and/or bed fishing affects a fishery short, medium, and longer term? I’ll

leave it to you to draw your conclusions.

How the data is presented:

Since all events represent Elite Series tournaments, which follow the same four-day format, the data shown represents all four days of the event. For events from 2011-2016 there was a cut to the top 50 for day three, and only the top 12 fished day four. For 2019, there was a cut to the top 35 for day three, and the top 10 fished day four. For simplicity, and ease of comparison, I rounded the weights to the nearest whole number- which is why there are flat points in the data.

BASS Elite Series Events – The St. John’s River, FL


· The highest weight was the most recent 2019 event. Nearly all of the top ten in 2019 tallied higher weights than the winning weights in previous years. Yet 2019 also has the most precipitous drop through the middle of the pack. Keep in mind that hurricanes wiped out much of the grass before this event, which could account for that drop.

· After very successful Elite events in 2011 and 2012, the St. John’s River was thrust into the national spotlight as a world class big bass fishery. Yet the events in 2014 and 2016 brought even better tournament results, especially through the middle of the pack.

· Keep in mind that while these are five separate national tournaments, there were literally weekly local tournaments happening during this same time period, yet from 2011 through 2016 weights continued to go up overall.

One could conclude that the St. John’s successfully survived the national exposure and resulting pressure. It is important to remember this is where, in large part, the fishing is shallow bed fishing. The fish here are also often taken long distances to weigh-ins and, in many cases, are unlikely to be returned to their original area. For the record, I know sight fishing can spark controversy among anglers. I am not suggesting that I believe sight fishing has no impact on a fishery, long or short term. That is why I suggested each angler draw their own conclusions.

Sam Rayburn Reservoir, TX

Why this body of water was selected:

This body of water was chosen for the shear volume of data available from various tours. Any who follow the Texas anglers of iBass360 know there are A LOT of tournaments on this lake. I don’t think I am overstating when I say that Sam Rayburn hosts as many 100+ boat tournaments during the year as any other lake in the country- many even in excess of 200 boats- and there is no shortage of skilled anglers in Texas. In addition, Sam Rayburn sees hundreds of recreational anglers, including a host of guided trips, every single day. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Sam Rayburn is one of the most pressured lakes in the country.

How the data is presented:

Because data from several different tours were used, for comparability, only results from the first two days of each event is shown. This was done because qualification for days three and four varies across the tours, and also varies within the same tours in different years. Again, for ease of comparison, weights were rounded.

FLW Series, Elite Series, & FLW Tour Events – Sam Rayburn Reservoir, TX