Elite anglers and B.A.S.S. upset with Wisconsin DNR over severe fishing restriction on Lake Michigan

The fifth Bassmaster Elites Series tournament of 2012 begins Thursday morning at Green Bay, Wis., on probably the sourest note in the legendary history of the oldest major tournament trail in the country.

“It's not good,” said veteran pro Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C. His take on the situation was echoed by fellow South Carolina pro Andy Montgomery of Blacksburg, S.C. “Not good. This is a tough week,” said Montgomery.

They were talking about developments that have cast a pall over the first B.A.S.S. “mystery lake” tournament since the tournament series held its first few championships on lakes that were announced to the Bassmaster Classic contenders once they were on an airplane heading to the lake for the annual title tournament.

Lake Michigan has been known for several weeks now as the destination for the 2012 “mystery lake.”

But the problem is the anglers won't be fishing Lake Michigan. They will be fishing a tiny little corner of the Great Lake, thanks to a ruling by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that restricts them to a small area in Green Bay off the main lake.

“We can't get to any good fishing,” said Montgomery. “They have us all piling into a place the size of Crowder's Creek (an arm of Montgomery's home water, Lake Wylie, a relatively small hydro-nuclear power reservoir along the South Carolina-North Carolina border).”

“Lake Michigan is a tremendous fishery, but 90 percent of the good fishing is north of the border the DNR established,” said Hite. “It's not a state line or anything like that. It's just a line DNR came up with that they don't want us to go past.”

Being crammed into that tiny little section of lower Green Bay is going to make the tournament fish “very small,” both anglers agreed. And probably not produce very well either, they said.

“All those boats beating that area in the three days of practice and then in the tournament is going to make fishing very tough,” Hite said. “It's probably going to be one of the worst tournaments in the history of BASS,” said Montgomery.

The two South Carolina pros were typical of the feelings of most of the field, apparently. Four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion Kevin VanDam, who hails from the neighboring state of Michigan, blasted the Wisconsin DNR for its restrictions on the anglers in a posting on Bassmaster.com.

VanDam said the biologists were concerned about anglers transporting the smallmouth bass from other parts of the lake down to the weigh-in site, saying they did not want the fish moved around and that the anglers would kill fish carrying them a long distance in their live wells.

Saying it is common knowledge that smallmouth bass are “notorious for traveling long distances,” VanDam said that argument was a non-issue. As for killing the fish, he charged the biologist with not having done their homework.

“...or they'd realize that B.A.S.S. has the lowest mortality record of any other tournament organization and that our guys’ boats are equipped with the best livewell systems to take care of the fish,” he wrote.”

Even BASS co-owner Jerry McKinnis did not hold back. Writing on Bassmaster.com, McKinnis said the anglers were “crammed in a box at Green Bay.”

“All the......professional anglers, weekend anglers, conservation folks, and the B.A.S.S organization plus the tourism people in the state of Wisconsin, have been totally insulted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,” McKinnis wrote in a column on Bassmaster.com.

“On the day that the Green Bay mayor announced the location, the DNR hit B.A.S.S. with boundary lines for how far we can go from Green Bay that were absolutely silly.”

McKinnis added: “We have been told that transporting bass over 25 miles in a boat livewell will kill fish. Well, we have to be dealing with people who have not paid attention to the bass fishing world. The modern day boat livewell is unbelievable when it comes to fish care, and the anglers themselves, well, there is no one on earth who takes better care of fish than an Elite angler.”

After praising LaCrosse, Wis., site of last week's Elite event, McKinnis noted that Green Bay has access to possibly the best smallmouth bass fishing in the world.

“But we are not allowed to fish all of it. We’ve been excluded from maybe the best parts, which will stop us from really showcasing what Green Bay has to offer to bass fishing.”

And he did not hold back at the pre-tournament meeting Wednesday afternoon, either.

“The area we are going to have to fish has been beat to death and it's going to get worse,” said Montgomery. “It's all because some DNR guy wanted to flex his muscles. Jerry McKinnis just ripped the DNR good at our meeting – and the DNR guy was standing there.”

Bassmaster Elite Series Green Bay Challenge

Jun 28-Jul 1, 2012

Lake Michigan - Green Bay, WI