By Louie Stout
In Michigan, If you catch 25 bluegill like this one caught by Brooke Schaap, you’ve limited out. In Indiana, you can keep 100.
Proponents seeking an Indiana bluegill bag limit gained some support from a 2016 DNR Licensed Angler Survey conducted last winter.
At least 60 percent of the anglers responding to a mailed survey said they would support a bluegill harvest limit and a size limit on crappies. Less than 26 percent expressed opposition.
Are you listening DNR?
Northern Fisheries Supervisor Jeremy Price says biologists are listening but want to proceed carefully.
As it stands today, you can keep 100 bluegills if you wish.
Remarkably, some anglers do.
As you may recall, Indiana proposed a bluegill bag limit a few years ago, but backed off when it was pointed out that the proposal put too many constraints on tourist anglers.
That issue was rectified to pacify the tourist community in another regulation but the bag limit was taken off the table.
“It’s always going to be on the table,” he insisted. “But honestly, we haven’t positioned ourselves well to make a biological case for a bluegill bag limit. So, from that standpoint, a move today toward a bag limit would be based strictly on social reasons and there is some uneasiness among our biologists about doing that.”
Price added that the Division of Fish and Wildlife presently is working on strategic planning for the next five years and it will include bluegill.
“There’s no doubt that emphasis will be placed on those questions about a bluegill bag limit,” he said.
Historically, the DNR puts a handful of lakes in a study group. Some will have temporary bag limits; others won’t. Those lakes will be surveyed over the course of a few years and comparisons made to determine what impact a bag limit might have.
“We are primed to make moves toward studying the issue to get a better sense of a regulation change that produces more winners than losers,” Price said.
He noted that a few scientific studies done the past 10 years indicate that more restrictive bag limits could produce better bluegill fishing, “but you’re not talking 25 fish, you’re talking 10. I don’t think we want to do that.”
Extreme, no doubt. But isn’t 25 better than no bag limit at all?
The DNR’s insistence to base these decisions on science is commendable. That’s what they get paid to do. Biologists also have to look at the entire state since northern Indiana waters are considerably different and smaller than the larger reservoirs found in central and southern Indiana. One bag limit for all lakes may not be a good fit.
I get that.
But when comparing apples to apples, what’s wrong with looking around at what other states are doing and dealing with the facts before you?
Minnesota (20 panfish), Wisconsin (25) and Michigan (25) have natural lakes like northern Indiana and all have bag limits. Ohio has no bag limit on bluegills or crappie, but it has entirely different fisheries. Nor is it known for its bluegill fishing.
Michigan has had a bluegill limit for 100 years and its lakes are very similar to northern Indiana. Several Hoosiers who fish southern Michigan say that you find better bluegill fishing north of the state line – where there is a bag limit.
Southwest Michigan fish biologist Brian Gunderman isn’t certain, but surmised the bag limit probably was set at 25 for social benefits without a lot of scientific research.
“This much we know, it’s common for our bluegill anglers to limit out, so that tells me it has the potential to have a (positive) impact,” he added. “Nor have we had a lot of objections about having the limit.”
Indiana had a 25-fish bag limit through the 1960s. In fact, it was an aggregate limit to include redears, crappie and rock bass.
And remember, that was during an era when there were fewer anglers and panfishermen didn’t have the technology (fishing gear, electronics, boating equipment, etc.) that makes them more efficient today.
Bluegill populations weren’t nearly as pressured, lakes were cleaner and natural shoreline habitat hadn’t been obliterated by man.
Today, word travels fast that big bluegills are spawning on 100-acre Lake X. Anglers can rightfully carry out an unlimited number of mature bluegill and at a time when they readily available.
Price said that it takes a northern Indiana bluegill about 7 years to reach 8 inches. It might be impossible to “fish out” a bluegill lake, but remove a large percent of quality bluegill, and what’s left?
That brings us back to the social aspect.
Who really needs more than 25 bluegill a day? And honestly, of those anglers who keep far more than that, how many actually wind up in the skillet?
Is there something wrong with spreading the wealth among anglers by limiting the harvest, even on a prolific fish like the beloved bluegill?
Hoosiers have made it known for years that the bluegill is the state’s No. 1 fish yet Indiana regulations reflect zero interest in its conservation values.
That needs to change.