T HEY SEEMED A LITTLE OUT OF MY LEAGUE. Pictures of famous professional anglers like Rick Clunn and Larry Nixon holding a beautiful, huge largemouth bass haunted my imagination. I thought the anglers I read about in the magazines were cool, but those bass they held were at another level.
Those fish blew my mind.
At this point, my freshwater fishing was limited to a gully down the road from my house. Other kids in the neighborhood and I had amazing times there catching garfish, grinnel and bullheads.
That’s all we caught though.
I brought down Creme plastic worms and Beetle Spins I bought at the local tackle shop but the only bites came from grinnel. None of us ever caught a single bass.
One day while fishing that gully, the tide brought in purple water. And I mean solid purple.
No fish bit that day.
I found out that a local factory had been dumping plastic dye into the water along with other pollutants, and the oxygen levels in the system were very low. Most fish could not live there, and the bayou itself was named the most polluted in Texas.
A few months later I ventured down a couple of miles from the house on my bike and came across a rice canal that pumped clean water from the Sabine River into local fields. When I crossed over the levee and saw the water, I was stunned. This water was clear like the footage I saw when TV pros Jimmy Houston or Bill Dance fished Florida.
Swimming slowly along the shoreline was a largemouth bass. It was a four- or five-pounder.
It looked like Moby Dick to me.
As I pondered the amazing sight, something clicked. This water wasn’t dingy. It certainly wasn’t purple. It was clear. There was lots of vegetation growing, and it had bass.
“There must be something to clean water and bass,” I realized.
From that day on, I made the connection between water quality and quality fisheries. It obviously wasn’t just me that had a similar epiphany. Just the catch-and-release ethic birthed by bass fishing alone has changed fisheries worldwide.
“There is no doubt that live release of bass during tournaments has elevated the mindful conservation of fishery resources by anglers,” said Bassmaster Editor James Hall. “Before B.A.S.S. introduced the ‘Don’t Kill Your Catch’ concept in 1972, bass were filleted and donated to the local communities.
“Once the mindset of catch and release became a part of the bass fishing culture, the management of the sport fish became a priority for both angler satisfaction and tourism industry,” Hall said. “Now, the same conservation ethic has been established with other species: walleye, redfish, etc. The angling public sees the benefit of returning fish to the water so they can be caught again.”
Hall said working in the bass fishing industry has had a profound impact on his personal views of conservation.
“Working closely with our conservation director, Gene Gilliland, as well as having relationships with fisheries biologists throughout the country, I have developed a keen interest in water quality issues,” Hall said. “I heard about the grass carp release at Lake Austin, which destroyed a killer largemouth fishery, and it makes me sick to my stomach.
“The controversy between “Big Sugar” and the water quality issues they have created below Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades sets a dangerous precedent. And I see a lot of great things, as well, like B.A.S.S. Nation groups adding artificial structures to lakes to improve bass recruitment.”
Pete Gluszek of The Bass University said their organization is focusing on environmental issues because they impact everyone.
“It’s important that we utilize The Bass University platform to bring attention to issues related to the health and advancement of our fisheries,” Gluszek said. “There are all sorts of things from storm water runoff, pollution, watershed protection and habitat development, to name just a few that impact the resources that we depend on for great fishing.”
That includes hiring Craig Durand as their environmental director.
“I applaud Bass University’s vision and commitment to protect and improve the health of our lakes and rivers,” Durand said. “We all live downstream, we all cherish our waters, and I look forward to supporting Bass University’s mission to improve our fisheries through education and community involvement.”
It’s a vision that virtually everyone in the bass fishing world has embraced, whether they realize it or not, and it has had a huge ripple effect.
I got reconnected with my personal “green” revelation a couple of years back. I was asked to dive a private lake that had been fished only by family and inspect some of the deeper holes away from the shore.
When I approached a huge log, something moved out of the murk on the bottom into the clear water above.
It was a 10-pound class bass you can see in the clip above. When I locked eyes with it, I was immediately transported back to that rice canal 30 years ago.
For some reason it looked like the exact same shade of green as the one that impacted me so profoundly. After I shot a quick video, the bass disappeared. That encounter reinforced the importance of letting such a fish grow to maturity. It also reminded me that without clean water and healthy habitat no fishery whether in a private lake or in the Gulf of Mexico can be sustained.
I have worked with numerous fisheries conservation projects, most notably southern flounder, but it all goes back to my first “green” encounter in a rice canal in West Orange, Texas.
With the fishing industry focused more than ever on water quality and healthy fish bag and size limits, the future is bright.
Maybe it would be more proper to say the future is bright green or better yet “bass green,” the true color of conservation.
Email Chester Moore at [email protected]