Missouri has a rich stream black-bass management history, focusing primarily on smallmouth bass. Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologists manage stream bass populations to provide a variety of fishing opportunities and a bright future.
Early stream bass management concentrated on finding out how many fish Missouri streams could produce, how fast bass grew and how to protect and improve smallmouth bass fishing. These efforts led to a statewide seasonal bass harvest closure (1965), 12-inch minimum length limit (1974), six-per-day limit regulations (1961) and an understanding that stocking wouldn’t improve stream bass fishing. Catch-and-release, hybridization and genetics studies were run in the 1960s. At the same time, the Conservation Department embarked on an ambitious stream access program to provide public access to bass streams.
More recent studies have centered on smallmouth habitat and improving black bass populations. Experimental habitat improvement projects began in the 1980s. In 1991, the first Stream Black Bass Special Management Areas were established, using special regulations to improve the numbers and sizes of smallmouth bass.
The success of the management areas led to a statewide effort to identify, study and improve Missouri’s best black bass streams. Fisheries biologists also studied spotted (Kentucky) and smallmouth bass interactions, leading to the removal of spotted bass protection in some streams.
In the future, Department of Conservation fisheries biologists will continue to evaluate bass populations in Missouri’s streams. Additional special regulations will be proposed if they can help populations with problems or protect already high-quality bass fisheries. Factors limiting smallmouth bass populations will also be targeted for investigation.
Currently, Missouri has almost 300 miles of streams with special management regulations and many more miles of permanently flowing black bass streams with statewide regulations (12-inch minimum length limit and daily limit of six).
Many state and federal fish and game agencies have expanded the smallmouth bass range across the nation through fish stocking. In Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation has not stocked smallmouth bass since the early 1970s, following an extensive research study that showed supplemental stocking of small, native smallmouth bass yields only a minute increase in adult numbers. Alterations to available habitat for smallmouth bass is the prime reason for decreasing populations and adding more fish into poorer habitat rarely means more fish for the angler.
Since the mid-1980s, Conservation Department fisheries biologists have noticed that spotted (Kentucky) bass have increased dramatically in portions of the Meramec, Big and Bourbeuse rivers where they were historically absent. In those rivers, spotted bass rarely seem to reach the 12-inch length limit, grow slowly and have been shown to compete and hybridize with native smallmouth bass.
While there is no doubt that smallmouth have been affected by habitat alterations, the continual march of spotted bass further upstream each year concerned biologists. Smallmouth bass numbers appear to have declined in many areas and biologists believe spotted bass may be part of the reason.
In response, the Conservation Department removed the minimum length limit on spotted bass and increased the daily limit to 12. Anglers in these three rivers can help slow the increase of spotted bass by learning spotted bass identification and taking some home.