Study shows Rainy Lake a ‘quality’ bass fishery

Based on the fisheries assessment work done at the Canadian Bass Championship here the past three years, MNR area biologist Darryl McLeod said data indicates Rainy Lake is producing bigger and older fish every year since the tournament’s inception in 1995.
“All indicators show that the quality of fish on the lake is improving,” said McLeod, noting the average weight of fish caught during last year’s tournament was 2.5 pounds.
Last year’s “big fish” was a record 5.44-pounder. And more fish were caught that measured in the memorable range of 43-51 cm in length.
“It all points to a good, quality bass fishery,” McLeod added.
In total, 1,229 fish were brought in to the weigh-in during the three-day tournament last July–86 percent of which came from the north arm, 13 percent for the south arm, and just one percent from Redgut Bay.
But while McLeod said the average age for a fish weighing 2.5 pounds was eight years old, growth can be extremely variable and so this size of bass can range from four to 11 years.
Though these figures are promising, McLeod stressed it would take at least one more year of tagging information to accurately measure the bass population in Rainy Lake.
There were 13 “recaptures” during last year’s tournament–four which were tagged in 1997, six in 1996, and three from 1995.
“The whole key is sampling and looking at the results over time,” noted McLeod. “You have to look at each year and track if the bass are showing any signs of stress.
The MNR here is trying to determine if the tournament is having any long-term impacts on the fishery, and what improvements can be made during future ones.
Even though this year’s tournament, slated July 24-26, will see a full slate of 130 teams (up from 104 last year), McLeod said he isn’t worried that the bass will start to undergo any serious cases of stress even though the catch mortality–2.8 percent last year–has increased in each of the three years.
Just 0.7 percent of bass caught died during the inaugural tournament in 1995 while that figure jumped to 2.3 percent in 1996. Still, McLeod stressed that figure is “quite low” and does not warrant any immediate concern.
Doug Cain, who sits on the tournament committee, said with 26 more teams fishing this year, it’s possible as many as 490 more fish will be handled.
McLeod said one change that may have to be done in future tournaments is reducing the size of the sectors to better examine the distances travelled by the bass.
The average distance moved by the bass from the release site was 7.8 km while the maximum distance was 30.5 km.
Cain also said the ministry has made recommendations to them in the past to better reduce the catch mortality.
“They’ve helped us in ways to reduce the amount of time we spend handling the fish to the number of tanks we use and the water flow in them,” said Cain, adding the bass tournament also enables the MNR to do research that it normally could not afford to do.
“They [the MNR] make recommendations and we implement them,” he stressed.