Angling is the most important factor influencing fish populations. For example, populations of largemouth bass and walleye frequently exhibit “stockpiling” of fish just below the minimum length limit. Even so, fishery biologists rarely incorporate spatial and temporal patterns in angler participation into management strategies, probably because little is understood about angler decisions to participate in the sport.
Anglers are influenced by numerous factors when selecting fishing sites. For example, angler effort may be related directly to fish densities within any one lake and influenced by the regulation strategy in place on that lake. Furthermore, fish densities and angling participation are dynamic (i.e., vary from year to year and from lake to lake). There exists interplay between angler participation and quality of fish in a lake. Variability in recruitment of fish among lakes should increase dispersion in densities of fish across a region, whereas movement of anglers among lakes should decrease dispersion in densities of fish across a region. Unlike fishery management efforts that in general operate on a local scale (i.e., single lake), these counteractive forces are likely stronger on a regional scale. Thus, incorporation of spatial and temporal patterns in angler participation into fishery management likely will require a shift in focus from lake-specific management to regional management. This shift in focus would be facilitated by an understanding of angler-participation patterns.
Scientists with the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, which is housed at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, initiated a 5-year study to gain a better understanding of angler participation and its influence on fish populations. Components of this study include development of models that (a) describe patterns of angler participation within a region (specifically focusing on the Salt Valley), and (b) describe fish population responses to different harvest regulations. Study findings should help biologists better determine appropriate lake-specific management objectives given the dynamic nature of angler participation and its interrelationship with fish populations.