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A Bass is Too Valuable to Catch Only Once…

Save The River’s Bass Catch and Release Program

Save The River, the Upper St. Lawrence River’s environmental organization which has run a successful Muskellunge Release program since 1987, was challenged a couple of years ago by two of its donors to develop a similar Bass Catch and Release(C&R) Program.

Those of us in the office and on the Board of Save The River were amazed to learn that the 1000 Islands was one of the few major fishing areas of North America not to have a formal bass C&R program in operation. The 1000 Islands section of the River has historically been recognized as one of the best bass fisheries in North America; recent changes in the River environment, such as the introduction and spread of Quagga and Zebra Mussels; the explosion of Round Goby; Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS): and the resurgence of Double crested Cormorants, have negatively affected bass populations.

The introduction of zebra and quagga mussels, Round goby, and VHS have all been tracked to ballast water from salt water vessels transiting the St Lawrence Seaway. New York State Department of Environmental Conservatin (NYSDEC) noted that 14 of the 15 highest ranking year classes of bass originated before 1989, while survival of the most recent year classes is among the lowest in their 35 year data. Zebra and quagga mussels are very efficient filter organisms and the resulting clear water in the River has changed the ecosystem and fish habitats in a negative way. Gobies, while providing a plentiful supply of food for bass, pike, and walleye, also are voracious foragers of bass nests. They have been documented darting into eat bass eggs, within seconds of the bass leaving (or being pulled off by an early season fisherman) the nest. VHS, a virus, was responsible for the killing of hundreds of mature Muskie several years ago.

While overall numbers of adult smallmouth bass have declined, the size of individuals has increased due to a shift in bass diets toward more abundant benthic food sources such as Gobies and Crayfish. Larger, younger individuals have resulted in younger fish becoming vulnerable to fishing earlier, creating the illusion that the bass population in the River remains healthy. Additionally, as the number of anglers has increased a greater proportion of the population is vulnerable to fishing than ever.

Catch and Release fishing has become a globally accepted practice to ensure plentiful game fish populations. More than 1000 muskies have been caught and released since SaveThe River, working with the Thousand Islands Biological Station, first partnered with anglers, guides and researchers in an effort to stabilize and promote growth of the species. Returning large adult Muskies to the River has helped strengthen the population. Fishermen returning limit size (54”) Muskie to the River receive a Michael Ringer Muskie print as a reward for successfully releasing the large fish.

Releasing a larger proportion of bass caught by anglers is an approach that can be used to reduce mortality of adult fish and allow more bass to survive. The bass population in the River will benefit if anglers restrict their take of fish to only those, which they will consume that day, while releasing the rest. A shore dinner of fresh cooked St Lawrence River bass remains one of the signature dining experiences of the 1000 Islands. Fishermen are being encouraged to release the larger bass since they are the most prolific breeders in the fishery.

Fishing techniques recommended for C&R

Save The River launched its Bass Catch and Release program this June, at the start of the bass season. In conjunction with Ed Huck Marine in Rockport, a weekly winner of a special Catch and Release sweatshirt is selected from photos submitted electronically, to Save The River.

The highly sought after sweatshirts are supplemented by special t-shirts that are available for $25 at Save The River’s Clayton office. Facebook, Twitter, and Save The River’s website are also used to recognize anglers participating in C&R. Participants in Save The River’s Bass Catch and Release program are encouraged to join Save The River and help support the many programs benefitting the health of the River.

Information gathered about the bass caught and released will be provided to the Thousand islands Biological Station (TIBS). They have always been part of the Muskie release program and currently monitor bass, focusing on recruitment of young of the year nesting, disease and adult monitoring during the spring.

Catch yes, but eat fresh and release the rest…


Prepared by Ohio Division of Wildlife Staff.

Ohio Division of Wildlife studies found survival of released sport fish averaged 82%, but could drop to 25% if not handled properly.

Anyone interested in learning more about Save The River’s Bass Catch and Release Program can check-out its website at, on Facebook at, or call 315-686-2010.

By John Peach, Huckleberry Island, Ivy Lea

John and his wife Pat, live on Huckleberry Island, near Ivy Lea, from May through October. The rest of the year they reside in Princeton, NJ, although John continues to make frequent return visits to the Islands throughout the winter. John retired several years ago from his career in international business. His family has owned a place in the Thousand Islands for over 50 years. John is a past president of Save The River, and is still active on the Save The River board.

Click here to see John’s other articles for TI Life.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Tad Clark
Comment by: Tad Clark ( )
Left at: 7:32 AM Tuesday, September 16, 2014
A worthy topic and well delineated. Thanks for sharing.
Mark Bond
Comment by: Mark Bond
Left at: 11:39 PM Wednesday, September 17, 2014
I'd be interested in where the data was collected to form the idea that there are LESS bass in the 1000 Island area than say 30 years ago. I've been fishing here for over 35 years & have never saw such a bounty of large & small mouth bass. In fact, its pretty darn hard to go out & NOT catch one. As I kayak along the shallows of the Lake of the Isles area in late May & June I see thousands of small 3 to 4" bass darting into the cattails & any other shelter they can find. While I believe in conserving & certainly not wasting this wonderful gift from God, when I sit down in the middle of the winter, to a fish dinner I caught that past summer, I'm right back in my favorite place in the world, if for only a moment! Don't you wish summer was just a bit longer!
John Peach
Comment by: John Peach ( )
Left at: 8:39 AM Thursday, September 18, 2014
Thank you for your observation. I have been fishing in the thousand islands for over 55 years, and agree that we are now catching many more huge bass than in prior decades. however, that is due mainly to the abundance of easy to catch goby laying on the bottom. The same gobies can decimate a mature bass bed in 4 seconds once the bass is lured away by other gobies or yanked off its bed by early season fishermen.
The data about the significant decline in the juvenile classes came from NYSDEC and TIBS in Clayton.
Please consider joining Save The River, which is sponsoring the Bass Catch and Release program as well as a major In The Schools education program to teach our children about the River.
Thank you. John
jerry backus
Comment by: jerry backus
Left at: 8:09 PM Wednesday, September 24, 2014
in regard to mark bond's comment i find it interesting that he is seeing all of these small bass. i have fished the river for 70 years and can't remember the last time i caught a bass under 2-21/2 lbs. it has to be at least 5 or 6years. i hope he is right but can't figure out what has happend to these fish. every one i talk to says the same thing. in the mean time, i will continue to practice catch and release as i always have and hope that someone with authority can get something done to restore our fishery to what it used to be.