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How Science Will Make You a Better Angler

Guest Blog by: Jack McLaren 9/3/2014
How Science Will Make You a Better Angler
Jack McLaren (brookieflyfisher)

As fishermen, we are often independent, freedom-loving folk that are—at best—leery of university scientists and—at worst—treat climate change like a communist scheme to take over America. While hot-button issues like climate change, wolf harvest, native fish population rehabilitation and other issues often pit scientific researchers against sportsmen, it is important to remember that scientific research can be critical to becoming better anglers. Scientific research can help us learn about our quarry, helping us catch more fish while at the same time conserving them for future generations. So how do we go about utilizing science rather than letting it divide us?

Luckily, there is a healthy group of scientists dedicated to researching how to conserve our fisheries as well as make them more productive. This group of scientists is called the American Fisheries Society (AFS).
This professional society of fisheries scientists and managers help promote scientific research and sustainable management of fisheries resources, publish some of the world's leading fisheries research journals, and organize scientific meetings. They’ve also published books like "Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger."

Last week I had the privilege to attend the 144th annual AFS meeting in Quebec City, Canada. This is AFS’s big, 4-day long national conference, which also includes a trade show and networking events. I got to rub shoulders with DNR biologists from Alberta to Iowa, as well as well-known professors and private industry professionals. It was the perfect opportunity to learn about what goes on behind-the-scenes in freshwater fisheries research and management, and I hope to relay some of that info to the members of Fish Explorer!

The first major event I attended was the trade show. This part was kind of like the International Sportsman’s Expo. Companies in attendance had a booth and promoted their product. They ran the gamut from basic scientific suppliers (like Thermo-Fisher Scientific, a leading supplier of all things scientific, like test tubes and what not) to specialized manufacturers like BioMark, a company that sells injectable identification microchips (like what most dogs get these days) specifically for fish. Another interesting manufacturer was MossBack, a company that makes artificial fish habitat structures. You may have seen those little PVC “porcupine” attractors sold through Cabela’s…well, these are a cut above.

The amount of business that revolves around fisheries management and conservation, compliance with government regulations, and scientific research was remarkable. There’s a lot more to the business of fisheries research than meets the eye!

The next day, I attended quite a few 15-minute oral presentations where professors, grad students, and government biologists presented their research. One was “The Impacts of Angling on Nesting Bass” by James Ludden. Ludden, a researcher working at the Queens University Biological Station (QUBS), intentionally caught and released spawning smallmouth and largemouth bass and observed what happened to the fry when the bass was caught. The results were startling.

It only takes 9 minutes for predators to decimate the fry by 50%. After 15 minutes the fry will be totally destroyed. Additionally, the most successful males at protecting their young are the largest, most aggressive, and therefore most susceptible to angling pressure. His deep dive into the dynamics of how bass reproduce will certainly help me understand springtime bass movement, as well as the need to quickly release all bass caught in the spring and summer.

In addition, scientists are making huge strides in understanding little-appreciated species like the Pallid Sturgeon, Sicklefin Redhorse, and Mountain Sucker. Genetics research, telemetry (a method for tracking animals), and a number of other techniques once reserved for large mammals have been miniaturized and applied to fisheries research, bringing about an explosion of new information that sometimes radically changes how we understand fish and their habitat.

The use of telemetry is particularly important, and a number of important studies are in the works. Telemetry allows researchers to easily track fish in real-time, allowing us to understand when and where fish spawn, feed, and take shelter. I don’t know about you, but this sounds awfully useful from an angler’s perspective!

For example, one study used radio telemetry to prove that rainbow trout primarily feed in riffles at night, preferring pools and runs during the day. Another study used these new technologies to show how road culverts and fire can completely change fish movements within a stream.

I hope you can see how scientific research can help you better understand how fish utilize their environment, what is being done to help conserve fish populations for the future, as well as where anglers fit in to all of this. I really encourage you guys to look up the AFS at and see what they’re up to, it’s really very informative! There is so much more that I learned that I didn’t get to include here. It’s not just people running around with nets making guesses, there are sophisticated corporations and government agencies with a lot of skin in this game, all to help schmucks like us catch more fish.
My heart is somewhere above 10,000 feet, casting for brick-red brookies, but you can find me anywhere in the state chasing anything from carp to cutthroat, fly or spin, boat or shore. Tight lines and GO IRISH!
American Fisheries Society, fisheries.orgImpressive, huh?144th Annual AFS Meeting
Let`s pool our money and put a few of these massive things in A-townThe endangered pallid sturgeon, a focus of research at AFS, source: wilipedia.comHow fish telemetry works, courtesy of Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Blog content © Jack McLaren
Member comments
MileHighMike, CO   9/5/2014 9:40:03 AM
Thanks for sharing.... Good read.
Dangly, CO   9/5/2014 12:55:54 PM
good read, but like many fishery specific societies, AFS has some primary goals that alot of people who enjoy and have a "stewardship" view of the outdoors might strongly disagree with, for example: "AFS Policy statement #2 : 1. Encourage developement and implementation of methods to control human population growth." they also lean heavily against private ownership of water containment and water shed property private ownership. While I envy Montana fisherman the access to rivers and streams that they enjoy, I also recognise the extreme difference in population density between Montana and Colorado. One needs only to see how the general public treats public fissheries here in the metro, to understand why private land owners would not want to allow access to the general public, even if the public stayed below the highwater line ( a line many would ignore) For a Fishery society to focus on population control speaks to me of an underlying ethos that I find highly objectionable.
JKaboom, CO   9/5/2014 3:23:08 PM
Great BLOG Thanks Brookie :)
Jack McLaren
Guest Blogger