Coming Wednesday: Why anglers don't eat the bass
BY NICOLE MARSHALL MIDDLETON World Scene Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Bass may be the prized trophies of Oklahoma lakes, but anglers don’t catch these fish for dinner.
Even though bass are plentiful in our lakes, catching and releasing this species of fish is a practice that goes back decades.
So, what are the top fish sought for food in Oklahoma?
Crappie, followed by catfish, according to Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Crappie is the top fish list when we do the angler preference surveys,” Gilliland said.
Channel or flathead catfish are also at the top of the list.
And while the lakes in the northern part of the state don’t have many walleye, Gilliland said they are also a sought after fish for food.
“They are, in my estimate, the best tasting fish. There are not as many places in Oklahoma that have them, not like crappie and catfish.”
As Tulsa prepares to host part of the Bassmaster Classic Friday through Sunday, Gilliland explained why the bass that are sought in this event aren’t considered a food fish by many of the professional anglers.
“About in the early 1970s, the fellow who founded the BASS — Bass Anglers Sportsman Society — Ray Scott, he pioneered the idea of catch and release for Bass tournaments and the thought that these fish were too valuable to be caught and kept and eaten. If you can catch them and turn them loose, someone else can catch them another day.”
Gilliland explained that during the tournament, the anglers will catch the fish at Grand Lake and bring them back to the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa to be weighed. The fish should be alive, or the anglers will lose points.
The Wildlife Department will be responsible for bringing the fish back, alive, and returning them to the lake in hatchery trucks.
“For the folks who know and love Grand Lake, that is a very important part of what is going on,” Gilliland said.
The concept of catch and release has become so ingrained with bass anglers, the harvest of bass nationwide has drastically declined, he said. But releasing the fish is not a requirement of the Wildlife Department.
“From the Wildlife Department’s standpoint, we don’t begrudge people for keeping fish. We have a limit of how many and what size of the various species they can catch and keep. Those limits are set up to help sustain the populations over the long term,” Gilliland said.
“So, if people want to keep bass to eat there is nothing wrong with it.”
The wildlife department has even made some steps toward encouraging more people to catch and keep bass, in particular spotted bass, as they are very abundant in a lot of our lakes. We would like people to keep more to balance the populations out,” he said.
“Small spotted bass, especially during the winter, are an excellent eating fish,” Gilliland said, explaining that fish taste better when the water is really cold and the flesh is a lot firmer and more appealing.
Find more of this story, plus recipes for cooking fish in Wednesday's Scene section or online at tulsaworld.com/food.
Edwin Evers holds up fish at the Bassmaster Classic weigh-ins back in February 2012. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World File