Bait fishing maybe not as lethal as thought

Posted on: June 8, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

Do trout caught on bait fare worse, long-term, than those caught on lures and flies? One researcher says no.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures

Conventional wisdom has long held that stocked trout caught using bait are more likely to die if released than are fish caught on lures and flies.

Is that really true?

Not according to one researcher.

The study

Bob Carline is a retired fisheries professor from Penn State University. Over the past three years he’s worked with Bald Eagle Sportsmen’s Club to monitor trout caught at its annual fishing tournament.

Each year, a portion of the trout stocked – mostly rainbows and browns, with a few brook and golden rainbows mixed in — were marked with tags. Anglers who caught one of those fish, then brought it in to a check station alive, were given cash prizes.

Those who caught a tagged fish that died were also encouraged to report that by being given cash, so as not to miss those fish.

In all cases, details on the anglers and fish were collected.

Carline noted, for example, that 88 percent of trout turned in had been caught on “ingestables” ranging from worms to paste baits. Ten percent were caught on lures and 2 percent on flies.

That’s about what might have been expected, based on a Pennsylvania trout angler telephone survey, Carline said.

“So we had a reasonably good representation of the angling public,” he added.

Anglers were also asked the time they caught their fish, how they kept it alive – on a stringer, in a bucket or otherwise – how long they held it after capture before turning it in and whether they’d left the hook in it.

Crews collected the fish, then put them back into the hatchery from which they originally came. They were monitored for nine days.

The findings

Across all categories – bait, lures and flies – fish that died tended to do so quickly.

“Most of the mortalities occurred on the day of capture,” Carline said.

That, too, was to be expected, based on past research, he added.

What some might not have predicted is that fish caught on bait were just as likely to survive as those caught other ways.

“I think the good news is, the study suggests that bait anglers, if they’re careful, can have a low level of hooking mortality,” Carline said.

Yet, will anything come of that?

Not necessarily.

The recommendation

Carline – in presenting his findings to members of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission board – said some stocked trout waters across Pennsylvania are managed under rules that exclude baitfishing. That includes portions of some of the state’s very best trout streams.

He suggested “there’s a disparity there” that could be impacting efforts to keep people fishing.

“At least from my perspective, you have to re-examine this. Especially with regards to retention,” Carline said.

Commissioners, though, were split.

The reaction

One commissioner, Bill Sabatose of Elk County, said he’d be open to allowing bait on more trout streams, or even all of them.

He’s a fly fisherman. But if someone else wants to fish the same water with bait, it’s not right to exclude them, he said.

“It doesn’t seem fair to me. I’ve always felt that,” Sabatose said.

“They pay the same for a license,” agreed commissioner Ed Mascharka of Erie County.

But ome other commissioners didn’t buy those arguments.

Commissioner Eric Hussar of Union County said the miles of stream statewide that are off limits to bait are insignificant.

“Those special regulations represent 4 percent of our stocked trout waters,” he said.

Another commissioner, Len Lichvar of Somerset County, said the information provided by Carline’s study was “quite frankly very limited,” given all the variables.

He noted that the trout examined as part of the study were freshly stocked. All were caught just once, he added.

On “regular” stocked trout streams – where fish might be caught multiple times, including later in spring when water temperatures rise – survival could be less, he noted. That’s especially true with brook trout, which he said tend to bite more aggressively.

“I just don’t think there’s enough information in this study to make any decisions,” Lichvar said. “I just don’t see it as something I could make decisions on.”

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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