Opinion: Arkansas Sportsman

OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Plan aims to promote bass fishing

Angler interest drives fisheries management, so naturally the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission promotes bass fishing in its proposed Reservoir Black Bass Management Plan.

In the preamble of Key Area 6, the management plan cites a recent survey which shows that most bass anglers are older white males that have higher incomes than the average licensed Arkansas angler.

"AGFC should recruit new and more diverse black bass anglers," the proposed plan says, and "AGFC should seek ways to retain current black bass anglers, minimize lapses in license purchases, and increase participation."

In other words, the agency wants all Arkansans to fish forever.

This agency asks itself if it adequately promotes Arkansas as a black bass fishing destination.

Frankly, the Game and Fish did a much better job of promoting recreational fishing in the past when it was more acceptable among wildlife management agencies to promote the hook-and-bullet aspects of resource management. It promoted excitement and entertainment instead of management.

Around the 1990s, agencies began viewing promotion as incompatible with their preferred image of dispassionate, scientific management. Promotional copy was dry and analytical. I experienced it from the inside as a staff writer for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and later as a staff member at the Missouri Department of Conservation.

AGFC's communications staff remains closer to its roots than many of its sister agencies, but the agency seems uncomfortable with unapologetically promoting the excitement and passion of fishing and hunting.

That's exactly what it will take to accomplish the plan's first goal, "To promote black bass fishing to attract younger and more diverse anglers and to retain those already engaged; and to promote black bass fishing as a tourist attraction." If it's not fun, people won't do it.

To this end, the plan projects several strategies to incentivize anglers to fish for bass.

One is Project Razorbass, a free angler recognition program for anglers that catch a largemouth bass larger than 8 pounds or 23 inches.

I'll take that a step farther. The Arkansas Legislature should officially designate the largemouth bass as the Arkansas Razorbass. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Department set the precedent years ago when it officially named the white bass/striped bass hybrid the Bodie Bass in honor of Bodie McDowell, a legendary North Carolina outdoor writer.

If you want to make a largemouth bass special, then make it really special by giving it a name that's unique to our state, one that would make a certificate truly collectible.

That ties directly to the second part of that strategy, which would recognize as a "Hog" any bass between 8 and 9.9 pounds. Any bass 10 pounds or more would be a "Trophy Hog."

Objective 2 would create a promotional campaign aimed at non-resident anglers, anglers that primarily target other species and non-fishing boaters. It would also "create messages" that describe fishing quality and fishing destinations.

Another item would emphasize non-catch aspects of bass fishing, like friendship, relationships, lake scenery and the challenging nature of bass fishing.

Objective 3 would increase the visibility of black bass fishing as a tourist attraction through partnerships with at least three state tourist organizations. Presumably, those would include Arkansas Parks and Tourism and convention and visitors bureaus. Florida in particular uses this model successfully for all of its fishing.

Objective 4 would create "fishing forecasts" for major black bass fisheries, and also a fishing calendar that highlights seasonal information on black bass biology and fishing. Additionally, it would create sampling summaries to inform stakeholders of black bass population statuses.

Finally, the plan would promote black bass fishing for various user groups like bank anglers, kayak anglers, fly fishermen, and anglers that use traditional gear. It would also promote family friendly fishing locations.

Promotion is how you sell any product, but closing the sale requires proper execution. Avid anglers populate the commission's executive staff. They understand and appreciate the excitement of bass fishing. If they can, for the sake of this key area, shed their buttoned-down management level reserve, they can make this work.