Changes To The Oklahoma Bass Fishing Rules & Regs
Fishing in Oklahoma is a wild tale of man's will over nature. While sport-fishing and species protections have been around since before statehood, it wasn't until the Dust Bowl and Great Depression that authorities looked at our waters as a source of both fun and sustenance.
There's a reason people line up for all-you-can-eat catfish these days, and it began simply as a state-sponsored effort to feed people in the 30s. After all, muddy earth-tasting fish is more filling than going to bed on an empty stomach, or at least that's how our fisheries program really gained traction in the early days.
Throughout time we've managed to make it to the point where the state is now begging people to start eating the game fish to likely manage the populations, and it starts in 2022 with our small and largemouth bass.
Oklahoma has spent the last sixty years trying to turn Oklahoma into a sportfishing paradise, and when you realize how many huge national fishing tournaments visit our state, the efforts have paid off. Major League Fishing, Bassmasters, and the smorgasbord of smaller professional subsidiary leagues spend plenty of time in Oklahoma lakes because these sportfishing efforts have been so successful... but too much of a good thing isn't a good thing.
Every bass angler in the world dreams of one thing... catching a bigger fish on the next cast of their reel. I grew up watching Bill Dance catch monsters every weekend, it's only natural we're conditioned to this. Now the fish populations have grown to the point that the state is asking anglers to start taking smaller fish in an attempt to grow bigger trophies... at least that's how the whole thing reads.
This is what has happened over the last few decades.
As the economy has grown, fishing for some species as food has dwindled. This is particularly true with large and smallmouth bass. Anglers consider them a trophy and sport fish. As such, a practical belief in catch-and-release has become so ingrained in these fishermen that the population of small bass to large bass is at an all-time lop-sided ratio.
It's not a uniquely Oklahoma problem either, it exists in all of the lakes in our region. In fact, the sheer disproportionate number of small bass to big bass is so steep right now that Major League Fishing had to put minimum weight restrictions on many of the lakes across our region. 2-pound minimum in most cases before they could be scored in the contest because there are so many tiny fish in our cooler waters.
Between the catch-and-release mentality that has been drilled into bass fishermen and the trend of keeping the big ones to be mounted on a wall, Oklahoma is struggling to grow big fish these days, but it's not the anglers for this... it's the rules and regulations that created this problem, and the cross-breeding of hungry-hungry southern bass strains probably had unintended consequences.
At the current time, for every bass bigger than 16-inches in length, there are four less than 16-inches. This is because it has been illegal to keep any bass that measured less than 14-inches for decades now, and this rule has reached a point in time where big fish are increasingly rare in our state's big fisheries, but the state is convinced they have a solution.
Starting September 11th, 2022, anglers can now only keep up to six large or smallmouth bass per day, only one of which can be over 16-inches in length. This removes the 14-inch minimum length regulation allowing you to take home a bag limit of cigar-sized bass if you wanted to.
Why? They're trying to cull the small bass and limit the taking of bigger bass in an effort to grow big sport fish again, and it's probably a good thing. The idea being if we collectively remove the voracious appetites and competition of small bass, bass will grow bigger, faster. This might lead to bigger trophies and happier anglers in the coming years.
If you're of the 80%-ish of anglers that are wondering "Why would I keep a non-trophy bass?" You're supposed to eat them.
I know, I know... What kind of smooth-brained cromagnon man eats a bass? That was my reaction too, but since they are sunfish, they supposedly have a flaky, buttery taste similar to the crappie and bluegill they're related to.
Still, it just feels wrong and the new regulation leads to more questions than answers. Particularly with tournament fishermen, but there is good news. This new slot system of favoring smaller bass doesn't affect the weekend warriors, but there's a little additional paperwork to make having more than one bass over 16" in your boat legal. Your tournament director is supposed to take care of all of that.
All of the details can be found here.