Can’t catch any largemouth bass? It may not be bad luck. Researchers think the fish are evolving

A largemouth bass (TNS photo from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

A largemouth bass (TNS photo from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

The largemouth bass is a favorite of sport fishermen in Maine and across the country. It’s known for being big and aggressive, taking bait and giving you a fight for it.

Bassmaster magazine has named three Maine lakes among the best in the country for bass fishing — Cobbosseecontee Lake between Winthrop and Manchester, Sebago Lake and Kezar Lake in Lovell.

But if you’re finding that you don’t catch as many largemouth bass as you did a decade or two ago, you may not be just suffering from bad luck. You may be feeling the effects of evolution.

A team of Connecticut researchers has found that largemouth bass may be evolving in response to the fishing.

Largemouth bass earn well their nickname, "Bucketmouths.'' (TNS photo by the Minneapolis Tribune)

Largemouth bass earn well their nickname, “Bucketmouths.” (TNS photo by the Minneapolis Tribune)

Does this mean you’re now being outsmarted by advanced freshwater fish?

No. The research team — led by Jan-Michael Hessenauer and Jason Vokoun of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Connecticut — is finding that, because fatter, more sedentary largemouth bass are the ones less likely to be caught, they’re the ones more likely to pass their genes on to the next generation.

It’s not that the bass are evolving to become smarter, it’s that they’re evolving to become lazier.

“This scenario genetically favors the fish with lower metabolisms, the fish that are less likely to be caught by anglers,” Vokoun said in a writeup posted online by UConn. “It suggests that we may be permanently changing exploited fish populations over the long term.”

The Hessenauer and Vokoun team published their findings in a recent paper carried by the journal PLOS ONE.

According to UConn’s Sheila Foran, the “researchers compared populations of largemouth bass in two lakes that are open to recreational fishing and two that have been undisturbed for hundreds of years.

“Connecticut has significant wild populations of largemouth bass living in protected bodies of water due to stringent management practices enforced by local water companies,” Foran’s piece continued, in part.

After a year of tagging, tracking and research, she explained, the research team “found that a significantly higher number of fish taken from the lakes where fishing was allowed had lower metabolic rates compared with the fish taken from protected bodies of water.”

“The results point to a reduction in the type of behavior that is so prized by anglers,” Hessenauer, a doctoral student, told Foran.

The researchers hope to reinsert the aggressive behavior into the gene pools of bass in popular fishing lakes by crossbreeding in fish from the protected areas.

Read more about the research by clicking here.