Fishing for change: State parks commission alters Moss Lake rule

A fishing enthusiast angles for a catch on Moss Lake west of Gainesville. Beginning in September, fishing in the lake will have a 16-inch maximum length limit on largemouth bass.

A new fishing regulation was recently approved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission that will affect several lakes in Cooke County.

The main change will be a modification of the 14-inch minimum length for largemouth bass to a 16-inch maximum length in order to allow fish to grow over the long run.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist and Denison District Supervisor Dan Bennett said the change has been in the making for some time.

“We’ve been kind of having an issue at Moss Lake for the last few years in our routine monitoring of that fishery,” Bennett said. “We’ve had some complaints from anglers, and we’ve been wrestling with it the past 10 years or so. We’ve kind of been waiting on some of these bass regulations that we were able to choose from to get consolidated and we were hoping to get a new regulation through that would be a good fit for Moss Lake while also allow tournaments to take place there and let bigger fish get caught.”

The new change will take effect Sept. 1 with no minimum length but a 16-inch cap on largemouth bass and a five-bag limit.

“That’s primarily to an overabundance in small bass and we’re hoping to shift that structure to favor larger fish,” Bennett said. “Most anglers desire to catch a larger bass. It’s more enjoyable for their experience and at Moss Lake, we’ve got a unique situation where we have a lot of Spotted Bass in the lake that take much of the food from the bigmouth bass. Spotted Bass rarely get much larger than 13 or 14 inches and most anglers have a hard time telling the difference between the two.”

One downside Bennett foresees to the change will be the impact on those fishing tournaments.

“It will place some restrictions on the tournaments as they’ll weigh in the five biggest fish, but this won’t allow them to keep fish larger than 16 inches to weigh in,” Bennett said. “That may create a certain subset of anglers that would be unhappy with that. We’ve tried to figure out what’s most preferable with the majority of individuals.”

Bennett said it will take a while to see a change at Moss Lake.

“It will likely take a decade or more where we see an impact as far as the population will show,” Bennett said. “We may see aspects in four to eight years, but it will also take some time for people to get used to that regulation. It may have to do more with the social dynamic of that change than the biological. We’ll continue to look at public support through some surveying on the lake that we’ll do.”

A benefit to harvester fishermen is that it will be easier to catch fish due to the smaller limits.

Bennett said deciding on the regulation took some time.

“It requires a great deal of background information and a public comment period where local fishermen can offer their opinion on that,” Bennett said. “Overall, we had a majority of fishermen that approved of it. They wanted to see an increase of larger bass at Moss Lake to do this regulation. One of the big issues is the 14-inch minimum limit kind of creates an issue of harvesting spotted and bigmouth bass.”

Lake Texoma will also standardize harvest regulations for Blue and Channel Catfish. The 12-inch minimum length will be removed and the 18-inch limit for Flathead Catfish will be removed. The bag limit will also be reduced from 25 to 15 fish for Blue and Channel Catfish.

“We hope that it will reduce the number of smaller fish by allowing fishermen to take those smaller fish home,” Bennett said. “That should improve growth rates of the fish remaining in the lake and allow those faster bigmouth bass to increase because they’ll be protected by this maximum length regulation.”

This Saturday, June 6, will also be Free Fishing Day across the state which allows fishing without a license at any public pond, reservoir or river.

“It’s an opportunity to recruit new fishermen to get out and try the sport without purchasing a license,” Bennett said. “It gets people to fishing that might not have otherwise taken that up before. It certainly can get some families out together where parents want to introduce their kids to fishing without having to spend a lot of money.”

Annual licenses cost $27 and 100% of the fees go to the TPWD for on-the-ground conservation efforts such as fish stocking.

Bennett expects people to take advantage of the Free Fishing Day and that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people fishing has gone through the roof in the past couple months.

“It’s kind of the only thing that people can get out and do. People are potentially off work and our lakes have been flooded,” Bennett said. “The kids aren’t in school. It can get people to accustomed to fishing or reintroduced to fishing. That could keep them into it long-term. I think in many cases it’s probably a lot healthier to be outdoors and not closed in a confined space. It will definitely boost your immune system being out in the sunlight.”

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